Bangkok University denies involvement in antiquities smuggling

More news on Roxanna Brown’s arrest. Bangkok University, which is home to the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum of which Brown is the director, denies any involvement in the antiques smuggling. At the same time, they have also said that they were never given any cause to suspect anything shady.

University art historian faces fraud charges
Bangkok Post, 14 May 2008

University art historian faces fraud charges
Museum director arrested in Seattle
ANCHALEE KONGRUT and AP

Bangkok University has denied any involvement in the trading of smuggled antiquities after the director of its ceramics museum, Roxanna Brown, was arrested in the United States.

Ms Brown, 62, a well-known art historian, was arrested by US federal agents on Friday while on a visit to attend a symposium at the University of Washington in Seattle.

A US citizen, she is accused of involvement in the fraudulent valuation of smuggled southeast Asian antiquities.Some genuine looted artifacts were smuggled into the US as copies with ”Made in Thailand” labels on them.

”Our museum never does any trading, authenticating or appraising of antiquities,” Bangkok University president Mathana Santiwat told a press conference yesterday.

”We have never exchanged artifacts with other museums.”

Ms Brown has been the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University’s Rangsit Campus since its opening in 2000.

The museum holds 2,500 valuable ancient ceramics donated by the late Surat Osathanugrah, chairman of Osotsapa group and founder of the university. She was adviser on ceramics to Mr Surat, which is the reason she become the museum’s director.

The Seattle Times newspaper reported she was charged with fraud and faces up to 20 years imprisonment if found guilty.

Ms Brown is accused of allowing her electronic signature to be used on appraisal forms for items that were donated at inflated values to several southern California museums. This enabled the collectors to claim fraudulent tax deductions.

The smuggled artifacts were allegedly taken from the Ban Chiang archeological site in Udon Thani, a major prehistoric settlement.

Ms Mathana refused to comment on Ms Brown’s arrest, other than to say she had never given grounds for suspicion.

”To us, she has always been a dedicated scholar with a passion for ancient ceramics,” Ms Mathana said.

Ms Brown’s arrest surprised many people in Bangkok who know her.

”She is the epitome of the academic expert. It is hard to believe she was involved with a ring dealing in looted antiquities,” one art historian said.

The US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said it did not know whether Ms Brown had a lawyer.

Michael Filipovic, a public defender appointed to represent her in Seattle, declined to comment on the allegations in the indictment, which will be heard in California.

Ms Brown is the first person to be arrested in an ongoing probe into looted artifacts. An affidavit filed in the case said gallery owners Jonathan and Cari Markell used Ms Brown’s electronic signature several times to falsify appraisal forms.

In one case, an appraisal for items to be donated to the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena claimed Ms Brown had inspected the items.

The couple have not been charged and have previously declined to comment publicly. Mr Markell has not responded to an email sent to him on Monday.

During the undercover investigation, a National Park Service special agent posed as a collector interested in artifacts. The agent learned that some of the artifacts managed to pass through US customs because they had ”Made in Thailand” labels affixed to them, making it appear they were replicas.

Court documents said the Markells and the agent met more than a dozen times, exchanged regular emails and called one another about antiquities from Southeast Asia.

Some of the calls and meetings were recorded, the warrants said.

Related books:
The Ceramics of Southeast Asia : Their Dating and Identification
Ban Chiang
Ban Chiang: Discovery of a lost Bronze Age : an exhibition organized by the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania [and others]

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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