The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has gained an international reputation for its efforts to repatriate looted artifacts through its antiquities trafficking unit (ATU). But one archaeologist has now cast doubt on whether the DA’s office has properly credited many of its collaborators.
Since the ATU was formed in 2017, the Manhattann DA’s office has recovered nearly 4,500 items from 29 countries, with an estimated value of more than $375 million. They include seven Egon Schiele works that were recently repatriated to the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, an ancient Roman bust that was seized from the Worcester Art Museum, and two sculptures worth $1.26 million that were sent back to Libya.
These seizures and repatriations are made possible through investigative research by specialists like Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek forensic archaeologist and expert on antiquities trafficking.
For the past five years, Tsirogiannis has helped the ATU with its recovery and repatriation missions using crucial evidence drawn from his own research. But in an interview with the Guardian, the Cambridge-based specialist accused the Manhattan DA’s office of “abusing his intellectual property by ignoring or downplaying his requests to be credited in official announcements.”
“They are taking my work and presenting it as theirs,” Tsirogiannis told the Guardian. “They are showing off with my academic work and not giving me the credit. It is an abuse of my intellectual property. But now, enough is enough.”
Tsirogiannis told the Guardian that he has never requested payment for his research, and was only interested in an acknowledgement of his work. He cited the lack of credit in the office’s recent announcement about the repatriation of 12 items collectively worth more than $9 million that were returned to Lebanon earlier this month. Tsirogiannis said he had clearly told the ATU the original research he contributed came from his 2012 PhD thesis, which is under restricted access at Cambridge University’s library due to sensitive information that could help art smugglers.
Tsirogiannis said the DA’s office requested his help, and he provided photographs and documents from his thesis showing how statuettes of the Greek mythological figures Castor and Pollux had been stolen from Lebanon.
While Tsirogiannis has been credited for “investigative support” in three different cases of of items returned to Italy last July and September, as well as ones to Greece in March of this year, he was not acknowledged in the Lebanon announcement.
Tsirogiannis was also not credited in the official announcement from the Manhattan DA’s office about the repatriation of three objects, including an alabaster female statuette dating to the 2nd century BCE, to Yemen in April. Tsirogiannis told the Guardian that he had shared research with the ATU linking the statuette to convicted art dealer Robin Symes.
“One would expect a minimum courtesy, especially from people who are claiming to help to do justice,” Tsirogiannis told the Guardian.
Tsirogiannis, who is currently based at Cambridge as an invited lecturer at the university, sent a short email back to ARTnews about his accusations. “My aim was to tell the truth publicly, raise awareness regarding this behaviour and protect my colleagues in the future,” he wrote.
He currently serves as the head of illicit antiquities trafficking research for the UNESCO chair on threats to cultural heritage at Ionian University in Corfu, Greece.
At the time of publication, the Manhattan DA’s office did not respond to ARTnews‘s request for comment.