Antiques dealer pleads guilty for his role in selling looted items

The operator of a Manhattan gallery known for its expertise in Asian antiques has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and possession of stolen property in connection with the trafficking of looted treasures in India and Southeast Asia.

Some of the items she sold to major museums in Australia and Singapore, and others were auctioned off at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, investigators said. The items ranged in value from $ 100,000 to $ 1.5 million.

Merchant Nancy Wiener, 66, whose mother was also a well-known expert in the field, admitted on Thursday that she had taken possession of items that showed possible signs of looting, such as encrusted dirt and dirt. debris, and presented them for sale. with false declarations of provenance.

“For decades, I have conducted business in a market where buying and selling antiques of vague or even non-existent provenance was the norm,” Ms. Wiener said during her appearance in Manhattan Supreme Court. “Obfuscation and silence were accepted answers to questions regarding the source from which an object had been obtained. In short, it was a conspiracy of the volunteers.

Ms Wiener, whose gallery is named after her, paid $ 1.2 million in forfeitures and fines, according to officials at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which handled the case.

Ms Wiener has also cooperated since her arrest in 2016 with the handing over or recovery of around 20 pieces of ancient sculptures and statues, many of which depict Buddhist and Hindu deities, officials said.

Deputy District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, who heads a unit to prosecute illegal antiques trafficking, said Ms Wiener “cannot undo decades” of damage to countries like India, Cambodia and Tibet, which have been deprived or stripped of objects of major cultural importance. . But he praised her for cooperating with the authorities and for handing over files and documents showing a pattern of illicit trade dating back decades.

Ms. Weiner’s mother, Doris Wiener, is credited with launching the South Asian American antiques market in the 1980s. She died in 2011.

“It is an understatement to say that these documents have turned out to be a treasure house of investigative value for us,” Bogdanos said.

Some of the illicit items Ms Wiener has been accused of possessing included Indian antiques smuggled into the United States by Subhash Kapoor, who is jailed in India and accused of trafficking thousands of looted items, records show court. Others were obtained through Douglas AJ Latchford, a prominent collector of Cambodian antiques who died last year after being indicted by federal officials for selling looted objects on the international art market.

Leila A. Amineddoleh, who practices and teaches art and cultural heritage law in New York City, said Ms. Wiener’s statement “speaks volumes about the antique market.”

“This is an amazing document because artistic crime analysts discuss the common practice of fabricating provenances, and so it is helpful that Wiener said they did and provided detailed information about the objects that went into the main ones. museums and auction houses, ”she said.

Ms Wiener described in detail how in 2012 she put many items from her mother’s estate up for sale through Christie’s. Although the objects were acquired from “known dealers in illegally exported antiques” from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ms Wiener said during her conviction that for six of the objects she knowingly provided Christie’s with false origins indicating that his mother had acquired them from a private collector.

“These false origins were intended to facilitate the sale of these objects by masking the fact of their illegal export,” she said.

Clinton Howell, a New York-based antique dealer and president of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, said the tactics used by Ms. Wiener and others over the past few years “are not forgivable.” But he added that “the dealership of today is not the dealership of 40 years ago – there is a very different attitude now.”

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