Art Market: Heavy Condemnation of Phoenix Ancient Art
It’s only one episode of this soap opera, but it’s a basic fact. The Geneva Police Court sentenced Ali A. to eighteen months of conditional imprisonment last Tuesday. We are in Switzerland. Therefore, the name is not given in full. Since the October 2016 Paris Match version was greedily followed by the Belgians, there has been no hypocritical humility. Anyone can actually read in the Swiss Radio-Television bulletin that a man who has just been released from prison is in charge of Phoenix Ancient Art, rue Verdaine, Geneva. One of the most famous galleries in the world when it comes to archaeology. Anonymity becomes relative…
I have told you little about this never-ending saga. So I’ll try to keep it simple. Phoenix Ancient Art was founded in 1968 by the parents of the defendant who died in the SR 111 plane crash in November 1998. It operated under the acronym Electrum on Fifth Avenue, New York. On two floors, it offered extravagant exhibitions with prestigious objects from Egypt, as well as Mesopotamia and Greece. Not only were the pieces magnificent, hence the exorbitant prices, but their presentation was museum-like (1). Gradually, doubts about the origin began to arise. Archeology no longer enjoyed the indulgences it enjoyed until the 1970s. While Phoenix still participated in major international art fairs, business boomed. In particular, the Roman sarcophagus, which was very long in itself, was returned to Turkey after sequestration in 2010-2015. Jean-Claude Gandour would gladly have bought it if certain details had not made him suspicious.
In January 2016, several objects were confiscated from BRAFA, so the interest of the Belgian press increased. Match released its scouts, while Phoenix opened a branch in Les Sablons de Bruxelles in 2017, now gone. In December 2016, things were moving fast in Geneva. Customs later seized about 15,000 antiques from the storage unit. Their value was estimated at half a billion dollars. “These facilities mainly belonged to Ali A.’s companies,” RTS said today. It took time to sort out. This revealed anomalies both in terms of declaration of entry into Switzerland and in the delicate area of certificates of origin. The first thing to be solved was the customs aspect. Ali A was fined 1.6 million plus costs in 2021. Later, the tax authorities demanded four million from him for unpaid VAT (value added tax).
The punishment plan remained. Everything is simplified by the confessions of the accused who “showed sincere remorse by his actions, especially by removing the damage that could have been expected of him.” The Police Court could have made a decision later, but Ali A. lost his right to appeal. He undertook to pay the costs of the proceedings in this case, amounting to 450,000 francs. The man thus admitted that he “sought false certificates of origin from several accomplices to whitewash the dubious past of the antiquities.” Ali A paid for the services of “treasure hunter” Adan N. The latter knowingly obtained artifacts from illegal excavations conducted in various countries of the Middle East. So it was forfeited. Refunds must now be made in various countries of origin, including Greece.
“The man admitted to asking several accomplices for false certificates of origin to whitewash the dubious past of the antiques.”
It’s far from over. Belgian controversies remain in play. There is also a delicate relationship with Robert D., a German-Lebanese businessman who is fearless but not without reproach, and whose name appears frequently in the file. It was our “partial epilogue,” as Paris Match put it. One day, an investigative journalist will have to start the subject to show possible connections with other works in which Swiss merchants are often involved, such as American museums. Then (perhaps) we will finally understand the obvious.
(1) Phoenix has since created a “Young Collectors” department in Rue Etienne-Dumont, with archaeological pieces under 20,000 francs.
Did you find an error?Please let us know.
– Heavy criticism of Phoenix Ancient Art
The director of this high-flying house specializing in archeology receives an eighteen-month suspended sentence in Geneva.