Saturday, January 26, 2008

Four CA Museums Raided

Federal officials raided a gallery and four museums in southern California on Thursday, "as part of a five-year investigation into the smuggling of looted antiquities from Thailand, Myanmar, China and Native American sites." The New York Times has the full story.

"At the center of the investigation are the owners of the Silk Roads Gallery, Jonathan Markell and his wife, Cari Markell, and Robert Olson, who is said in the search warrants to have smuggled looted antiquities out of Thailand, Myanmar and China. In affidavits supporting the warrants, federal agents said the Markells had imported looted antiquities provided by Mr. Olson and then arranged to donate them to museums on behalf of clients who took inflated tax deductions for the gifts."

No charges have been filed, but are presumably forthcoming. Affidavits describe undercover work by National Park Service agents posing as collectors and report that "curators appeared to be aware that the objects that they were accepting as donations had been looted or illegally imported."

In a followup story today, the Times' Edward Watts hones in on the idea that museum employees were complicit in the acquisition of smuggled artifacts. The search warrant executed at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena "describes a deputy director of collections at the museum telling an undercover agent that she was supposed to put up 'token resistance' to accepting antiquities without proper paperwork. The artifacts, a collection of materials from the Ban Chiang culture in Thailand, were soon accepted anyway."

I recommend both stories in their entirety.

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