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Crime & Litigation



Court battle over giant Brazilian emerald nears resolution

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Written by LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent   
Friday, 17 October 2014 09:56

The Gachala Emerald is one of the largest gem emeralds in the world, at 858 carats (171.6 g). Found in 1967 at La Vega de San Juan mine in Gachalá, Colombia, it is housed at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution. Image by thisisbossi. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – An incredible hulk of an emerald weighing 840 pounds (381 kilograms) was hauled out of a Brazilian mine more than a decade ago and began a global odyssey that ended in Los Angeles Superior Court, where a fight over its ownership is nearing resolution.

On Tuesday, a judge eliminated from consideration gem trader Mark Downie, one of the men claiming ownership of the emerald that has been appraised at $372 million. It is considered one of the largest in the world.

Downie was the second claimant to be eliminated from consideration by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson. The judge found Downie's claim was not credible.

One more trial awaits for a group of purported owners that includes gem trader Kit Morrison, who was trying to sell the gem in Las Vegas when authorities confiscated it. He says he received it as collateral from a gem dealer for a shipment of diamonds for which he paid $1.3 million but never received.

The emerald came into the U.S. in early 2005 and was kept in San Jose, Calif., for a time before being taken to New Orleans, according to a lawyer for the remaining group of claimants, including Morrison.

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, which trucked it to Los Angeles, now has it under lock and key.

The emerald, that was pulled from a mine in the jungles of Brazil's Bahia state and is known as the Bahia Emerald, is not going to win any beauty contests. According to those who have seen it, it is a hulking brute of a gem, with several thick green rods the size of a man's forearms jutting out of a stone base.

Lawyers said that museums including the Smithsonian and the Getty have expressed interest in obtaining it for their collections. Its value is as an art object, and it can't be broken down to make jewelry, they said.

Last month, the Federative Republic of Brazil submitted a motion claiming the emerald is a piece of the country's cultural and scientific heritage and should be returned there.

A hearing is scheduled for January to determine if Brazil has a claim.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-16-14 0007GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE

The Gachala Emerald is one of the largest gem emeralds in the world, at 858 carats (171.6 g). Found in 1967 at La Vega de San Juan mine in Gachalá, Colombia, it is housed at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution. Image by thisisbossi. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license. 

Last Updated on Friday, 17 October 2014 10:09
 

SC Johnson regains Frank Lloyd Wright desk, chair

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Written by M.L. JOHNSON, Associated Press   
Friday, 17 October 2014 09:05

Frank Lloyd Wright-designed chair for the Johnson Wax Headquarters, manufactured by Steelcase Inc. Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Copyright 2014 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. It is believed that the use of this low-resolution images qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

MILWAUKEE (AP) – A desk and chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright has been returned to home products giant SC Johnson as part of a settlement with a California man who had planned to auction the distinctive and valuable furniture, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

SC Johnson, which is based south of Milwaukee in Racine, sued Sotheby's auction house and Thomas Figge, of California, after the auction house listed the furniture for sale in 2013.

Wright designed SC Johnson's Administration Building in the 1930s and created furnishings for it. The desk made of enameled steel and American black walnut has horizontal “speed” lines that give it a unique, streamlined look, according to court documents. It is painted a deep red and has rounded drawers that swing outward in a cascade. The blue upholstery on the accompanying chair indicates it was used in the company's records department, the documents said.

The chair and desk were among multiple copies produced for SC Johnson. The company said in its lawsuit that it has not sold or loaned any items designed by Wright except in a few, well-documented cases to museums. It said it had no record of a gift to the people named in the ownership history provided by Sotheby's, believed the items rightfully belonged to SC Johnson and wanted them returned.

Court documents show the lawsuit was dismissed Oct. 8 because a settlement had been reached. The terms weren't disclosed, but SC Johnson spokeswoman Jam Stewart said in an email to The Associated Press that the company got the furniture back.

“Frank Lloyd Wright designed furniture is an important part of our company's legacy,” Stewart wrote. “The furniture was designed in 1938-39 as part of Wright's vision for the Administration building. We are happy that chair and desk have been returned to SC Johnson and our legacy has remained intact.”

Figge's attorney, John Cahill, declined to comment on the settlement. Figge bought the furniture in 2002 from a previous owner, according to court documents.

SC Johnson offers tours of two Wright-designed structures, the Administration Building, where examples of the architect's furnishings can be seen, and the Research Tower, where products including Raid bug killer, Glade air freshener, Off insect repellant and Pledge furniture polish were created.

___

Online:

SC Johnson tours: http://www.scjohnson.com/en/company/visiting.aspx

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-14-14 2309GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE

Frank Lloyd Wright-designed chair for the Johnson Wax Headquarters, manufactured by Steelcase Inc. Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Copyright 2014 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. It is believed that the use of this low-resolution images qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. 

Last Updated on Friday, 17 October 2014 09:14
 

Authorities probe burglary at Yogi Berra museum

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Written by Associated Press   
Friday, 10 October 2014 08:34

Autographed photo of New York Yankees Yogi Berra. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com archive and Piedmont.

LITTLE FALLS, N.J. (AP) – Authorities are investigating a burglary at a museum honoring Yogi Berra.

Montclair State University Police Chief Paul Cell says the break-in at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center happened Wednesday morning. He would not say what, if anything, was taken.

The museum honoring the New York Yankees Hall of Famer opened in the late 1990s. It is located on the university's campus in the northern New Jersey community of Little Falls. In addition to the baseball exhibits and memorabilia, it offers children's educational programs that focus on sportsmanship and social justice.

County, state and federal agencies are assisting in the investigation.

The Essex County Crimestoppers program is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the burglary.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-08-14 1950GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE

Autographed photo of New York Yankees Yogi Berra. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com archive and Piedmont. 

Last Updated on Friday, 10 October 2014 09:31
 

Swiss museum to decide next month on German art trove

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Written by Associated Press   
Thursday, 09 October 2014 09:52
Franz Marc's (1880-1916) 'Pferde in Landschaft' (Horses in Landscape), circa 1911, gouache on paper, was among the looted artworks passed down from Hildebrand Gurlitt to his son, Cornelius Gurlitt. BERLIN (AP) – A Swiss museum said Wednesday that it expects to decide late next month whether to accept a priceless collection of long-hidden artworks bequeathed by German collector Cornelius Gurlitt.

Gurlitt, who died in May, designated the Kunstmuseum Bern as the sole heir to his collection. A decision on whether to accept the bequest is expected at a Nov. 26 meeting of its board of trustees, museum spokeswoman Ruth Gilgen said.

The museum had six months to make its decision, starting from the formal opening of Gurlitt's will.

German authorities in 2012 seized 1,280 pieces from Gurlitt's apartment while investigating a tax case, including works by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.

Shortly before he died, Gurlitt reached a deal with the German government to check whether hundreds of works were looted from Jewish owners by the Nazis. Authorities say that deal is binding on any heirs.

Separately, the German Cabinet on Wednesday approved plans to set up a government-backed center called the German Lost Art Foundation, which will bring together existing research and coordination facilities and streamline the handling of the search for looted art.

The foundation will be based in the eastern city of Magdeburg and will start work later this year, government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said.

She added that the decision “makes clear again that Germany is facing up to its special responsibility to clear up the Nazis’ looting of art.”

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-08-14 1356GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
Franz Marc's (1880-1916) 'Pferde in Landschaft' (Horses in Landscape), circa 1911, gouache on paper, was among the looted artworks passed down from Hildebrand Gurlitt to his son, Cornelius Gurlitt.
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 October 2014 10:03
 

Islamic extremists threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

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Written by SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press   
Monday, 22 September 2014 09:00
The shrine of Jonah in Mosul was destroyed by explosives set by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on July 24. Image by Roland Unger. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. BAGHDAD (AP) – For more than 5,000 years, numerous civilizations have left their mark on upper Mesopotamia – from Assyrians and Akkadians to Babylonians and Romans. Their ancient, buried cities, palaces and temples packed with monumental art are scattered across what is now northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

Now much of that archaeological wealth is under the control of extremists from the Islamic State group. The militants have demolished some artifacts in their zealotry to uproot what they see as heresy, but they are also profiting from it, hacking relics off palace walls or digging them out to sell on the international black market.

Antiquities officials in Iraq and Syria warn of a disaster as the region's history is erased.

In Iraq, black market dealers are coming into areas controlled by the Islamic State group or in safe regions nearby to snap up items, said Qais Hussein Rashid, head of the state-run Museums Department, citing reports from local antiquities officials still in the area.

When the militants overran the northern city of Mosul and surrounding Ninevah province in June, they captured a region were nearly 1,800 of Iraq's 12,000 registered archaeological sites are located. They snapped up even more as they pushed south toward Baghdad.

Among the most important sites under their control are four ancient cities – Ninevah, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashur – which were at different times the capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians first arose around 2500 B.C. and at one point ruled over a realm stretching from the Mediterranean coast to Iran.

The heaviest damage confirmed so far has taken place in the grand palace at Kalhu, from which Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II reigned in the ninth century B.C., Rasheed said. The palace walls are lined with reliefs describing the king's military campaigns and conquests or depicting him hunting lions or making sacrifices to the gods.

“They are cutting these reliefs into small parts and selling them,” Rasheed continued. “They don't need to excavate. They just need a chain saw to cut the king's head or legs if they want.”

Recently they carved off a relief depicting a winged demon holding a sacred plant and sold it abroad, he said. “It is now beyond borders.”

Authorities fear other sites will soon face destruction, including Mosul's city museum, which has rare collections of Assyrian artifacts, and the 2,300-year-old city of Hatra, a well preserved complex of temples further south. From both locations, militants ordered out antiquities officials, chastising them for protecting “idols,” Rasheed said.

So far, it appears the militants have not done anything with the artifacts at the sites because they are awaiting instructions from their religious authorities, he said.

The Islamic State militants seek to purge society of everything that doesn't conform with their strict, puritanical version of Islam. That means destroying not only relics seen as pagan but even some Islamic sites – Sunni Muslim shrines they see as idolatrous, as well as mosques used by Shiites, a branch of Islam they consider heretical.

In and around Mosul, the militants destroyed at least 30 historic sites, including the Islamic mosque-shrines of the prophets Seth, Jirjis and Jonah. The shrines were centuries old in many cases.

But their extremist ideology doesn't prevent them from also profiting from the sale of ancient artifacts, either by selling them themselves or taking a cut from thieves who are increasingly active in looting sites.

The shrine of Jonah was built on top of an unexcavated palace in the ancient Assyrian capital of Ninevah. After blowing up the mosque, thieves burrowed underneath and are believed to have taken artifacts, said Rasheed, citing reports from local antiquities officials who remain in Mosul.

It is unclear how much the militants are earning from antiquities. U.S. intelligence officials said the Islamic State rakes in more than $3 million a day from multiple sources, including smuggling of oil and antiquities, human trafficking, extortion of businessmen, ransoms and outright theft. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments, said the militants sell goods through smuggling networks in the Kurdish region, Turkey and Jordan.

In civil war-torn Syria, looting of archaeological sites is believed to have increased tenfold since early 2013 because of the country's chaos, said Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's director-general of antiquities and museums. The past year, the Islamic State group has overrun most of the east, putting a string of major archaeological sites in their hands.

In one known case, they have demolished relics as part of their purge of paganism, destroying several Assyrian-era statues looted from a site known as Tell Ajaja, Abulkarim said. Photos posted online showed the gunmen using hammers to break apart the statues of bearded figures.

More often, the extremists seem to have latched onto the antiquities trade.

For example, the 2,300-year-old city of Dura Europos is being pillaged. The site is in one a cliff overlooking the Euphrates near the Iraq border in an area under the Islamic State group's control, and satellite imagery taken in April show it pockmarked with holes from illegal digs by antiquity-seekers.

Images showed hundreds of people excavating on some days from dawn to nightfall, with gunmen and gangs involved, said Abdulkarim. Dealers are at the site and “when they discover an artifact, the sale takes place immediately,” he said. “They are destroying entire pages of Syrian history.”

Dura Europos is remarkably well preserved cultural crossroads, a city first founded by Alexander the Great's successors and later ruled by Romans and various Persian empires. It boasts pagan temples, churches and one of the earliest known Jewish synagogues. Archaeologists in 2009 found likely evidence of an early use of chemical warfare: During a second century siege, Persian attackers dug tunnels under the city walls and set fires that poured poisonous sulfur-laced fumes on the Roman defenders above.

Alarmed by the militants' advance, the United Nations' cultural agency UNESCO adopted an emergency plan to safeguard Iraq's cultural heritage. It called on art dealers and museums not to deal with Iraqi artifacts and alerted neighboring countries of potential smuggling.

“We are very, very, very concerned that the situation could be aggravated in a way that causes more and more damage,” Nada al-Hassan, of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, told The Associated Press.

___

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed from Beirut, Lebanon.

Follow Sinan Salaheddin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sinansm

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-09-19-14 0716GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
The shrine of Jonah in Mosul was destroyed by explosives set by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on July 24. Image by Roland Unger. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.
Last Updated on Monday, 22 September 2014 09:29
 
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