Lebanese supplier and collector Georges Lotfi, wished in the USA amid allegations of trafficking looted antiquities, has firmly denied all expenses levelled in opposition to him. A warrant for the 81-year-old’s arrest was issued in New York final month, accusing the previous pharmacist of dealing with “a whole lot of antiquities“ smuggled from war-torn nations within the Center East.
In a seven-page assertion written in French, paperwork posted on-line and through an interview with The Artwork Newspaper, Lotfi disputed the warrant’s allegations and offered new info on the spectacular seizure in 2019 of a golden sarcophagus from the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork. The gilded coffin of the excessive priest Nedjemank, subsequently returned to Egypt, had been offered to the museum for €3.5m by French supplier Christophe Kunicki, who stands charged in Paris with prison conspiracy, gang fraud and laundering.
On 7 September, the New York District Legal professional held a ceremony for the restitution to Egypt of 5 extra items the Met had bought at public sale in Paris, the place Kunicki was appearing as professional, and a bronze statuette of a kneeling priest, additionally seized from the museum final February. Based on the affidavit of Homeland Safety agent Robert Mancene, this eighth century BC bronze had been offered by Lotfi in 2006, who “had bought it instantly from the looter“. The Lebanese collector was additionally the prime handler of the marble Sidon bull’s head seized in 2017 from the Met. The pinnacle had been stolen in 1981 by Christian militiamen in Byblos throughout Lebanese civil warfare.
In his assertion and interview with The Artwork Newspaper, Lotfi doesn’t deny these offers or others described within the affidavit. He says he offered the bull’s head—now valued at $20m—for $3,500 to Frieda Tchacos, who ran the Zurich-based Nefer Gallery, and the bronze statuette for $20,000 by means of a Jerusalem supplier named Gil Chaya, proprietor of Biblical Antiquities, who offered “correct export paperwork from Israel to the US”. Nevertheless, he claims he “acquired” the works in his famend assortment from “licensed sellers“, checking their information with the Artwork Loss Register, and has “all the time acted based on worldwide and Lebanese legal guidelines”. Lebanese laws, he says, “protects the proper of particular person collectors, together with the proper to personal categorised antiquities, below the supervision of curators”. A 2016 legislation, reaffirmed final April, “exempts personal collectors from proving the origin and acquisition of their antiquities“, he says, claiming the possession of his assortment “was accepted by the Beirut Museum, the Lebanese Tradition Ministry and the Homeland Safety”.
Lotfi says he moved a part of his assortment within the Nineteen Eighties from Lebanon to the freeport of Geneva, and later to Paris and New York, to be able to shield it from the civil warfare—all the time acquiring correct customs paperwork for every transfer. He says that he gave the New York investigators the important thing to 2 storage models in New Jersey the place he was protecting Japanese Roman antiquities he was able to mortgage to US museums earlier than delivery them again to his dwelling nation. “Consequently,” he says, “in 2021, [authorities] seized 23 mosaics and a Palmyra engraved stone” that had allegedly been looted in Lebanon and Syria. “I’m now asking for his or her return to Lebanon.”
“My huge mistake is that I befriended Matthew Bogdanos”, Lotfi says, referring to the top of the Artwork Trafficking Unit within the New York District Legal professional’s workplace, “who turned in opposition to me. And I blame myself for having recognised the golden sarcophagus, when it turned the centre of an exhibition on the Metropolitan, and alerted Bogdanos. I knew the piece as a result of it had been proposed to me some time in the past, for $50,000 in Dubai, with two different sarcophagi. I declined the supply as a result of I understood the provenance was doubtful.” Based on Lotfi, on the time, the mum, which disappeared later, “was nonetheless within the coffin”.
Lotfi claims that after the opening of the Met exhibition, the provider of the sarcophagus contacted him “as a result of he had monetary difficulties and he hoped for a reward. I put him in touch with Bogdanos, not asking something for myself, however as a result of I’m in opposition to looting, which destroys archaeological websites. Bogdanos requested him to go to the US. He didn’t consent, however gave him all the data and unique photos, which allowed the court docket to grab the coffin. And he by no means obtained any cash”. Lotfi claims the smuggler in query was a Jordanian citizen named Muhammad Jaradat, alias Abu Stated, who died final Could in hospital in Amman after an extended sickness.
Amongst different artefacts mentioned in his assertion and interview, Lotfi acknowledged he acquired within the Nineteen Sixties the so-called “Ktisis Mosaic”, which he says he offered “for a really low worth” to the well-known collector George Ortiz. It was acquired by the Metropolitan within the late Nineties.
In his affidavit, particular agent Mancene famous that a few of Lotfi’s properties have been nonetheless available on the market, together with “ceramics on the market on Historical Artwork Worldwide, a Florida-based enterprise owned by Richard Brockway“.Brockway confirmed to The Artwork Newspaper that he had “taken a couple of mosaics on consignment” from Lotfi. Brockway now intends to return them to Lotfi, including that “he had offered good paper provenance”.