A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Museums and archaeologists fighting trench warfare over the trade in undocumented antiquities want the U.S. Court of Appeals to resolve whether artifacts removed in violation of foreign laws are protected by U.S. stolen property law. Last October, a three-judge panel heard oral arguments over collector Michael Steinhardt's appeal of a district court ruling that a classical gold phiale, for which he paid $1.2 million, be returned to Italy (see "Golden Phiale Appeal," November/December 1998). Steinhardt's lawyer questioned whether the United States should "treat cultural property as stolen merely because a foreign government declares itself to be the owner." Judge Ralph K. Winter cut him short, asking, "Isn't the issue at least in part whether the government can seize an object after somebody lies on a customs form trying to get it into the country?" Lawyers caution against trying to predict the outcome of any case from oral arguments, but they do note that where a case involves a complex issue (like the applicability of stolen property law) and a simpler one, courts may resolve the case on the simple issue without addressing the more complex one.
Meanwhile, Vincenzo Cammarata, the Italian coin dealer who previously possessed the phiale, has been arrested in Catania, Sicily, on charges of conspiracy, handling or receiving stolen property, and Mafia links, according to Italian and English newspaper accounts. Five other people were arrested, including Giacomo Manganaro, the University of Catania professor who first published the phiale in 1989. Police also seized a large number of prehistoric, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine artifacts in Cammarata's residence. Neither Cammarata nor the Italian authorities could be reached for comment.