The Apulian plate mentioned by the Manhattan DA.

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In a press release issued on October 10, the Manhattan District Attorney stated 19 antiquities collectively valued at nearly $19m had been returned to Italy and listed a series of individual dealers that it is investigating who it described as “major antiquities traffickers”.

Following the press release’s publication and articles written on the topic in several media outlets including Antiques Trade Gazette’s website, Joanna van der Lande, chairman of the ADA, issued a statement questioning many of the claims made in the press release including the dealers mentioned and the valuations put on the objects returned.

In a letter to ATG, van der Lande said: “The latest claims by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office yet again raise the question as to who is making what appear to be wildly exaggerated valuations for items returned to source countries.

“We also need to ask exactly what evidence exists to prove that they were looted.”

The ADA has written to the DA’s office about the “manner in which the media release was presented”. It said: “Having unequivocally labelled a number of named individuals as ‘major antiquities traffickers’ in the opening paragraph, an unheralded footnote states: ‘The charges referenced within are merely allegations, and the individuals are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.’”

The ADA also questioned the valuation of the objects returned to Italy.

Van der Lande added: “It is impossible to see how the DA’s office arrived at the figure of $19m. According to expert valuers from the Antiquities Dealers’ Association, the south Italian plate shown is worth up to about $7000 at auction and only if it were to have a good provenance.

“Even if you include the price achieved for the ‘best’ Corinthian helmet at auction, quoting a valuation figure of nearly $19m for 19 objects does not add up and is completely irresponsible.”

A number of Corinthian-type helmets have appeared for sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in recent years, with one selling for $855,000 but most making sums under $300,000.

Expert assessment

When contacted with these claims the DA’s press office would only comment: “We have experts assess the objects at the time of each repatriation based on the legal definition of value under the law.”

The ADA and International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) have challenged other official bodies on their reporting of antiquities trafficking including UNESCO, the European Commission and Europol.

Van der Lande added: “Let’s have the same transparency and due diligence when it comes to ‘facts’ that these bodies so readily demand of dealers and auction houses in relation to objects. Questions certainly need to be asked about who provides valuations for antiquities to the authorities.”

See Joanna van der Lande’s letter in full.