Billionaire’s looted art still on display at Israel Museum

A Neolithic mask loaned by American billionaire Michael Steinhardt, center, is displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP)
A Neolithic mask loaned by American billionaire Michael Steinhardt, center, is displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 08 January 2022

Billionaire’s looted art still on display at Israel Museum

A Neolithic mask loaned by American billionaire Michael Steinhardt, center, is displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP)
  • Steinhardt gave the Royal Moabite Inscription to the museum on extended loan in 2002, shortly after buying it from a licensed Israel dealer in Jerusalem, said Amir Ganor, who heads the Israel Antiquities Authority’s theft prevention unit

JERUSALEM: One of the Israel Museum’s biggest patrons, American billionaire Michael Steinhardt, approached the flagship Israeli art institution in 2007 with an artifact he had recently bought: A 2,200-year-old Greek text carved into the limestone.
But shortly after it went on display, an expert noticed something odd — two chunks of text found a year earlier during a dig near Jerusalem fit the limestone slab like a jigsaw puzzle. It soon became clear that Steinhardt’s tablet came from the same cave where the other fragments were excavated.
Last month, Steinhardt surrendered the piece, known as the Heliodorus Stele, and 179 other artifacts valued at roughly $70 million as part of a landmark deal with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to avoid prosecution. Eight Neolithic masks loaned by Steinhardt to the Israel Museum for a major exhibition in 2014 were also seized under the deal, including two that remain exhibited at the museum.
Museums worldwide are facing greater scrutiny over the provenance — or chain of ownership — of their art, particularly
those looted from conflict zones or illegally plundered from archaeological sites. There are growing calls for such items to be returned to their countries
of origin.




The Heliodorus Stele, loaned by American billionaire Michael Steinhardt, is displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (AP)

Donna Yates, a criminologist specializing in artifact smuggling at Maastricht University, said that several recent scandals involving looted artifacts — such as the Denver Art Museum’s return of Cambodian antiquities — are “causing museums to reconsider the ownership history of some of the objects that they have.”
“They can’t really afford the public embarrassment of constantly being linked to this kind of thing, because museums aren’t wealthy and many of
them hold a place of public trust,” she said.
In addition to the Heliodorus Stele and two of the ancient masks, at least one other Steinhardt-owned artifact in the Israel Museum is of uncertain provenance: A 2,800-year-old inscription on black volcanic stone. The museum’s display states the origin as Moab, an ancient kingdom in modern-day Jordan.
How it got to Jerusalem remains unclear.
Steinhardt gave the Royal Moabite Inscription to the museum on extended loan in 2002, shortly after buying it from a licensed Israel dealer in Jerusalem, said Amir Ganor, who heads the Israel Antiquities Authority’s theft prevention unit.
That dealer, who confirmed the deal but spoke on condition of anonymity because of the legal questions surrounding the item, told The Associated Press that he obtained the inscription from a Palestinian colleague in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, who didn’t specify its provenance.
“I don’t know how it got to the dealer in Jerusalem,” Ganor said. He said it could have come from the West Bank, neighboring Jordan or through Dubai, a longtime antiquities hub.
The Israel Museum rejected interview requests and refused to show the artifact’s documentation.
But in a statement, it denied wrongdoing, saying it “consistently follows the applicable regulations at the time the works are loaned.” It said all displays are “in full cooperation” with the antiquities authority.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said the Moabite Inscription wasn’t part of the Steinhardt investigation and declined to discuss the item.
James Snyder, who was the Israel Museum’s director from 1997 to 2016, said all
artifacts coming to the museum have their provenance checked
by the IAA before they’re exhibited, and that Steinhardt’s other looted artworks “came with documentation of legal ownership.”
“We were given documentation of legal purchase, it was approved to come in on loan and it was approved to be returned” by the authority, Snyder said.
Israel has a legal antiquities market run by some 55 licensed dealers. They are allowed to sell items discovered before 1978, when a law took effect making all newfound artifacts state property.


Fists fly in Honduran Congress ahead of new president’s inauguration

Fists fly in Honduran Congress ahead of new president’s inauguration
Updated 22 January 2022

Fists fly in Honduran Congress ahead of new president’s inauguration

Fists fly in Honduran Congress ahead of new president’s inauguration
  • Legislators from leftist Libre party protested after 20 rebel members proposed Jorge Calix, one of their cohorts, as provisional congress president
  • Amid cries of "traitors" and "Xiomara!" angry Libre legislators forced their way to the podium while Calix was being sworn in, causing him to flee under a hail of punches

TEGUCIGALPA: Lawmakers exchanged blows in the Honduran Congress Friday as a dispute among members of president-elect Xiomara Castro’s party turned violent.
Legislators from her leftist Libre party protested after 20 rebel members proposed Jorge Calix, one of their cohorts, as provisional congress president.
Castro loyalists claimed this violated a pact with Libre’s coalition partner.
Amid cries of “traitors” and “Xiomara!,” angry Libre legislators forced their way to the podium while Calix was being sworn in, causing him to flee under a hail of punches and much pushing and shoving.
It was the first sitting of the 128-member Congress since elections last November.
Following an emergency party meeting later on Friday, the president-elect announced that the 20 members had been expelled from Libre, calling them “traitors” and “corrupt.”
The crisis began late Thursday when Castro called her party’s 50 legislators to a meeting to ask them to support Luis Redondo of the Savior Party of Honduras (PSH) as congress president.
The 20 rebel members did not attend.
On Friday, Libre leader Gilberto Rios told AFP that the 20 are backed by groups that wish to stop Castro’s promised anti-corruption campaign, including people in “organized crime” and “drug trafficking.”
Castro won elections on November 28 to become Honduras’ first woman president and end 12 years of National Party rule.
She won as part of an alliance between Libre and the PSH, to which the presidency of Congress was promised.
Castro accused the dissidents of “betraying the constitutional agreement” and “making alliances with representatives of organized crime, corruption and drug trafficking.”
Her husband Manuel Zelaya, a former president who was deposed in a 2009 coup supported by the military, business elites and the political right, is a senior Libre party official.
Castro is to be sworn in on January 27 along with other senior officials, including the congress president, at a ceremony attended by international guests including US Vice President Kamala Harris.


US man accused of faking death to avoid charges jailed in UK

Nicholas Alahverdian. (Photo/Wikipedia)
Nicholas Alahverdian. (Photo/Wikipedia)
Updated 22 January 2022

US man accused of faking death to avoid charges jailed in UK

Nicholas Alahverdian. (Photo/Wikipedia)
  • Noble ordered Alahverdian to be held without bail because he “cannot be trusted”

LONDON: An American man who authorities say faked his own death to evade prosecution for rape and financial fraud before fleeing to Scotland was jailed Friday after he failed to show up for an extradition hearing.
Nicholas Alahverdian, who has used a number of aliases including Nicholas Rossi, was denied bail at Edinburgh Sheriff Court after being arrested in Glasgow on Thursday. The 34-year-old will be back in court on Feb. 10 for a preliminary hearing, with a full hearing scheduled for Feb. 17, Scottish court officials said.
His attorney, Fred Mackintosh, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Alahverdian was first arrested on Dec. 13 at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, where he was being treated for COVID-19. The suspect, who was using the name Arthur Knight, appeared in court by video link on Dec. 23 and was granted bail so he could keep receiving medical treatment while awaiting extradition proceedings.
Prosecutors allege Alahverdian discharged himself the following day and returned to his home in Glasgow. He was arrested Thursday after failing to attend a hearing in the extradition case.
Sheriff Alistair Noble, the Scottish judicial officer who presided over Friday’s hearing, said bail was initially granted on the understanding that Alahverdian would need to remain in the hospital for “at least a few weeks.” But Noble said a doctor at the hospital has indicated that the suspect can now receive the treatment he needs while in prison.
Noble ordered Alahverdian to be held without bail because he “cannot be trusted.”
Utah County Attorney David Leavitt’s office, which has charged Alahverdian in connection with a 2008 rape in Utah, confirmed Alahverdian’s arrest but said it wouldn’t comment on the extradition proceedings.
Leavitt’s office says Alahverdian, who was then using the name Nicholas Rossi, sexually assaulted a former girlfriend in Orem, Utah. The office has said its investigation found other complaints alleging abuse and threatening behavior against women in other states.
Authorities in Rhode Island have said Alahverdian is also wanted in their state for failing to register as a sex offender. The FBI has said he faces fraud charges in Ohio, where he was convicted of sex-related charges in 2008.
In recent years, Alahverdian had been an outspoken critic of Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families, testifying before state lawmakers about being sexually abused and tortured while in foster care.
Then in 2020, he told local media he had late-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma and had weeks to live.
An obituary published online claimed he died on Feb. 29, 2020. But by last year, Rhode Island state police, Alahverdian’s former lawyer and former foster family were publicly doubting whether he actually died.


Arizona sues Biden to keep school anti-mask rules

Arizona sues Biden to keep school anti-mask rules
Updated 22 January 2022

Arizona sues Biden to keep school anti-mask rules

Arizona sues Biden to keep school anti-mask rules
  • Ducey's lawsuit said the Treasury Department created restrictions on spending the money Arizona receives under President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan Act
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal mask-wearing in school settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19

PHOENIX: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sued the Biden administration on Friday over its demand that the state stop sending millions in federal COVID-19 relief money to schools that don’t have mask requirements or that close due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Phoenix comes a week after the US Treasury Department demanded that Ducey either restructure the $163 million program to eliminate restrictions it says undermine public health recommendations or face a repayment demand.
The Treasury Department also wants changes to a $10 million program Ducey created that gives private school tuition money to parents if their children’s schools have mask mandates.
Ducey’s lawsuit said the Treasury Department created restrictions on spending the money Arizona receives under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act on its own and without legal authority. It asks a court to declare that the Treasury Department’s rules are illegal and permanently block enforcement and any demands that it pay back the $173 million it is spending on the two programs.
“Nothing in that underlying statute authorizes Treasury to condition the use of (ARPA) monies on following measures that, in the view of Treasury, stop the spread of COVID-19,” the lawsuit says. “If Congress had truly intended to give Treasury the power to dictate public health edicts to the States, and recoup or withhold (monies) ... it would have spoken clearly on the matter. It did not.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal mask-wearing in school settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“By discouraging families and school districts from following this guidance, the conditions referenced above undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the Treasury Department wrote in last week’s letter.
The Treasury Department started demanding that Ducey change the programs in October. It was part of a concerted effort to force Arizona and some other Republican-led states that have opposed mask mandates or were using pandemic funding to advance their own agendas to end those practices.
Ducey rejected Treasury’s request the following month, and last week the Biden administration followed up with a formal demand that it cease using the money for the disputed programs or face either repayment demands or withholding of additional money it is set to receive under Biden’s COVID relief bill.
Friday’s lawsuit said the Treasury Department initially recognized that states have “broad latitude to choose whether and how to use the (money) to respond to and address the negative economic impact” of COVID-19. But then it changed course, and created the new rules, the suit said.
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new lawsuit.
At issue are two state programs the Republican governor created last summer meant to help schools and students.
Arizona’s Education Plus-Up Grant Program provides $163 million in funding to schools in higher-income areas that received less than $1,800 per student in federal virus aid. Districts that require face coverings or that have closed due to virus outbreaks are ineligible.
Another called the COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Program provides for up to $7,000 for parents if their child’s school requires face coverings or quarantines after exposure. It lets parents use the money for private school tuition or other education costs and its design mirrors the state’s existing school voucher program.
In a letter sent last week, the Treasury Department warned that the state has 60 days to remove the anti-masking provisions before the federal government moves to recover the relief money, and it threatened to withhold the next tranche of aid as well.
Ducey created the programs in part to up the pressure on school districts that had mask mandates or other COVID-19 restrictions, saying they were hurting children and parents who had endured more than a year of school shutdowns, remote learning and other restrictions. Provisions in the state budget that barred school mask mandates statewide were later thrown out by the Arizona Supreme Court because they were improperly adopted, but Ducey did not change the programs.
“Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged — mandates that place more stress on students and families aren’t,” Ducey said in August. “These grants acknowledge efforts by schools and educators that are following state laws and keeping their classroom doors open for Arizona’s students.”
Arizona has received about half of the $4.2 billion awarded to it under the 2021 coronavirus relief bill, and the Treasury Department said it may withhold payments if Ducey failed to comply with its demands.


Search on for humpback whale entangled in debris off Hawaii

Search on for humpback whale entangled in debris off Hawaii
Updated 21 January 2022

Search on for humpback whale entangled in debris off Hawaii

Search on for humpback whale entangled in debris off Hawaii
  • First responders removed about 600 meters of heavy-gauge line from the animal over the weekend when it was off the island of Kauai
  • Officials plan to try to find the whale and clear more line from it as conditions permit

POIPU, Hawaii: A marine mammal rescue team is looking for an adult humpback whale entangled in debris off the coast of Hawaii.
First responders removed about 2,000 feet (600 meters) of heavy-gauge line from the animal over the weekend when it was off the island of Kauai, The Garden Island newspaper reported. Authorities detached most of the gear but weren’t able to get all of it off before the whale moved on.
Officials plan to try to find the whale and clear more line from it as conditions permit. They will study the removed gear to try to determine what it is and where it came from.
Large whales can become entangled in active or abandoned fishing gear or other ropes and lines in the ocean. The drag from debris can cause whales to use more energy to swim. It can also make it harder for them to feed, potentially leading to starvation. The debris can also injure the animals and trigger infections.
The entangled whale was emaciated, light-colored and rough-skinned, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. It had patches of rust-colored whale lice, indicating it was distressed.
Graham Talaber, who lives in the community of Koloa on Kauai, noticed rope and a dark spot in the water while filming green sea turtles from with a drone-mounted camera on Sunday. After 10 to 15 minutes of hovering over the area, his worries were confirmed when he saw a humpback at the end of a big net.
“It’s just right there, right in front of you, this massive, bus-size animal struggling for its life,” Talaber said. He asked his father to alert NOAA.
The responder team attached a satellite telemetry buoy to the whale, which will self-release in about a week. The buoy signaled when the whale returned to Kauai waters on Wednesday but the team could not spot the whale.


FIFA boss Infantino living in Doha before World Cup

FIFA boss Infantino living in Doha before World Cup
Updated 20 January 2022

FIFA boss Infantino living in Doha before World Cup

FIFA boss Infantino living in Doha before World Cup
  • Swiss newspaper Blick revealed that Infantino was living in Doha, where he rents a house
  • Two of his four daughters attend school in the build-up to the World Cup

PARIS: FIFA president Gianni Infantino has moved to Doha on a temporary basis to oversee the build-up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year, world football governing body confirmed on Thursday.
“As communicated in October 2021, the FIFA President informed the FIFA Council that he would divide his presence between Zurich, Doha and across the world, in order to deliver his presidential duties and be closer to the FIFA World Cup,” FIFA said in a statement.
“As he did during the FIFA Arab Cup, he will work alongside other FIFA staff in our office in Doha, when required, until the conclusion of the tournament. For the avoidance of doubt, Mr.Infantino has residency, and remains liable to pay taxes, in Switzerland.”
Swiss newspaper Blick revealed that Infantino was living in Doha, where he rents a house and two of his four daughters attend school in the build-up to the World Cup which takes place in Qatar from November 21 to December 18.
Meanwhile, Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter said it was “incomprehensible” that the 51-year-old should be based elsewhere than FIFA’s headquarters which have been in Zurich since 1932.
“The place of the president of Fifa is where the headquarters are and it’s in Zurich,” Blatter told French radio on Thursday.
“I cannot say that it is outrageous. But I can say that it is incomprehensible that he has gone to live there with his family. It leaves a bitter taste,” said Blatter.
“It’s an abandonment of responsibility, because he must stay where Fifa has its headquarters, especially at a time when we have internal problems.”
Blatter, 85, was FIFA president between 1998 and 2015 when he was forced to stand down and banned from football for eight years, reduced later to six, over ethics breaches.