US antiquities dealers jailed for tax fraud involving Southeast Asian loot

This story is related to the repatriation of Ban Chiang artefacts to Thailand early this year. The antiquities dealer who was involved in the sale of the artefacts was sentenced to prison for an elaborate tax fraud scheme. Part of the sentencing agreement is the return of artefacts to their country of origin, including Thailand and Cambodia.

Calling Indiana Jones: Looted artifacts, tax scheme send ex-antiquities dealer to prison
My News LA, 14 December 2015

Operation Antiquity: Prison for Antiquities Dealer Behind Looting and Tax Fraud Scheme
Chasing Aphrodite, 15 December 2015

An ex-antiquities dealer who ran a complex Los Angeles-based tax fraud scheme involving looted artifacts was sentenced Monday to a year and a half in federal prison for making false declarations in customs documents in order to bring stolen archeological resources into the United States.

Jonathan Markell, 70, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson to 18 months behind bars followed by a year of supervised release.

An undercover federal agent and an expert in Southeast Asian antiquities both testified about the extent of the smuggling scheme, which, according to prosecutors, duped Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and other institutions.

Also Monday, Markell and his 68-year-old wife, Cari — who operated the now-defunct Silk Roads Gallery in the 100 block of North La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles for 10 years — were sentenced to probation for operating a related tax evasion scheme in which the couple “packaged” and sold smuggled artifacts to give clients tax write-offs when the items were donated to local museums.

A $1,500 “package” typically included antiquities from Ban Chiang, Thailand, along with false sales invoices to reflect an earlier sales date, and a fraudulently inflated $5,000 appraisal that contained a bogus expert’s signature, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns.

Full stories here and here.

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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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