Saturday, July 03, 2004

Hicham Aboutaam Convicted in Iranian Treasure Smuggling Case

THE ART NEWSPAPER - NEWS: "Aboutaam pleads guilty
Antiquities dealer admits misrepresenting the origins of a 700BC silver rhyton

By Martha Lufkin
Hicham Aboutaam, a prominent antiquities dealer, pled guilty in Manhattan federal court on 23 June to a misdemeanor charge of falsely representing that a c. 700 B.C. Iranian silver drinking vessel he imported into the United States came from Syria. He will be sentenced on 20 July.

The initial complaint of December 2003 had charged illegal importation, which is a felony. The one-count misdemeanor charge to which Mr Aboutaam pled guilty was filed on 14 June. The commercial invoice submitted to Customs had stated the country of origin as Syria. But Mr Aboutaam told the judge that the document with the false statement was used to avoid the normal delay associated with US Customs clearance of an Iranian object. Aboutaam, a principal in the dealer Phoenix Ancient Art, of Geneva and New York, was arrested in December 2003.

The silver rhyton, decorated with a griffin, is valued at close to $1 million, and remains in the custody of the US Department of Homeland Security. Under US sentencing guidelines, the misdemeanor charge carries a penalty of imprisonment of up to 6 months and a fine of from $100 to $5,000. At the time of arrest, the government�s complaint noted reports of two experts that the rhyton was consistent with objects from the Western Cave Treasure in Iran. Objects from the Cave, which was believed to contain many important artifacts from the 1st millennium BC, have been smuggled out of Iran and have ended up in art galleries, museums, auction houses and collections worldwide, the December complaint said. The New York Times reported that Paula Cussi, a collector and Metropolitan Museum trustee, bought the rhyton from Mr Aboutaam."

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