Stolen Cultural Property: Brown Bag Lunch with Alice Segal (2009)

Alice Segal is an immigration specialist with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security. Although an immigration specialist seems an unlikely guest speaker for the Cardozo Art Law Society, Segal has been assigned to Cultural Property and Art Law investigations. Although it’s not the Thomas Crown Affair, the work does involve rather intriguing cases of international art theft.

Art Law investigations occur when works with dubious provenance are found crossing the U.S. border. Segal lends investigative support for these investigations. This support involves interpreting criminal statutes to find power to investigate and interpreting treaties to determine what obligations the U.S. government has in regard to recovered works. Segal also helps draft “hold harmless agreements” to prevent liability for damage to the works while in the care of the U.S. government.

One interesting case was resolved at the beginning of November. A Jewish Bible had been published in Venice around the year 1516. By the early 20th century, ownership of the Bible had transferred to the Jewish Community of Vienna. In 1938, the Bible was seized by the Gestapo and taken to the Berlin archives. After World War II, it was transported to Switzerland. Then in 2008 it was brought to the United States and put up for auction. An agent at ICE, experienced with items lost during the Holocaust, noticed the Bible in the catalogue and ICE became involved. It has now been returned to the Jewish Community of Vienna. Segal noted that, as with this case, most of these art investigations are resolved without criminal charges or civil penalties. A rare example of art experts, Government officials and immigration lawyers working together to do the right thing.

The press release from ICE can be found here: http://www.ice.gov/pi/nr/0911/091109newyork.htm

Another recent press release from ICE regarding other recovered cultural property: http://www.ice.gov/pi/nr/0906/090601newyork.htm

For information on art theft, visit the Art Loss Register: https://www.artloss.com/content/home

– Caroline Camp

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