Defamatory Attack on IADAA And Its Officers – a Response
From the IADAA newsletter
On June 11, the French newspaper Libération published an article by the journalist Emmanuel Fansten which, among other claims, directly accused IADAA chairman Vincent Geerling and deputy chairman Antonia Eberwein of being involved in the trafficking of antiquities.
The first thing to note is that not only are the claims untrue, but they are also utterly unfounded, with Fansten’s article unwittingly admitting that the evidence for making them was not there.
An Error Is at the Heart of the Story
Further to this, having been supplied by their lawyer, cultural heritage specialist Yves-Bernard Debie, with a very detailed dossier of evidence clearly demonstrating that the claims were not true, Fansten chose to ignore it in favor of the published article, which he appears to have largely written before he approached Vincent Geerling and Antonia Eberwein for information.
At the heart of the story is a simple error: an informant who believed that he had found a stolen Egyptian funerary mask on Antonia Eberwein’s stand at BRAFA after becoming convinced that it matched an allegedly trafficked mask spotted on Facebook.
The informant tipped off the Belgian police who seized the mask in February 2020, convinced of its illicit nature. However, a comparison of the two masks quickly showed that they did not match and had numerous indisputable differences.
What the police appear not to have understood is that such masks were made in huge numbers over a period of about 300 years, and that they were designed to a variety of templates, so that many appear very similar.
It later transpired that the Facebook post that sparked the seizure was faked: the “looters” depicted turned out to be experts taking part in lawful excavations organized under the direction of Professor Kerry Muhlestein of the Brigham Young University. Objects included in the post were clearly fake, and the post also pictured Mr Khaled EL-Anany, Minister of Culture in Egypt, and even Mr Mustafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Why Do Authorities Ignore the Facts?
All of this was easy to see in the Facebook post, clearly exposing it as fake. Maître Debie supplied all this evidence to Fansten. So why did neither he, nor the informant or police take it into account? And why was none of it mentioned in the Libération article?
The Belgian police are then understood to have set about looking for evidence of other stolen masks that might match the one they had seized, and found another very similar example provided by the Central Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC). After close comparison by an expert Egyptologist, it too turned out not to be the seized mask.
So having seized the Eberwein mask on the basis of information that proved to be false, the Belgian police sought new evidence to justify the seizure, but did not find it. Despite this, to this day, three and a half years later, they have not returned the mask to her.
The Libération article reports that unnamed investigators from the OCBC said Vincent Geerling and Antonia Eberwein were traffickers and even gangsters who were “suspected” of “transgressive practices”. However, it presents no evidence to support such claims, and the word “suspected” indicates that actual evidence must be lacking.
Distortion of the Truth
Fansten went further, relating how Vincent Geerling had been at former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez’ side at a Paris conference on cultural property on February 1, 2022 – five months before legal action against Martinez began – as though this was clear evidence of some sort of illegal conspiracy between the two that linked Vincent Geerling to the Louvre scandal. In fact, Vincent Geerling had been invited to take part in a discussion panel chaired by journalist Vincent Noce that also included Christie’s global CEO Guillaume Cerruti, Professor Marc-André Renold, specialist in art law at the University of Geneva, and Roberto Riccardi, Head of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, as well as other major figures from the art market. Fansten made no mention of them, and Martinez was not part of their panel, which begs the question as to why he singled out Vincent Geerling for mention. This distortion of the truth to fit his narrative illustrates Fansten’s approach to character assassination across the whole article.
Curiously, what Fansten did pick up on was Vincent Geerling’s speech at the conference, which was entirely unrelated to the issue of the mask. Fansten reports (in translation from French): “After condemning the European regulation as too restrictive in his speech, Geerling underlined that the evidence of (extensive) trafficking and looting is lacking.” What was the point in mentioning this?
Fansten’s questionable handling of the issue is further evident in his shift from reporting the alleged suspicions of the police to making his own direct and unattributed comment, personally accusing Vincent Geerling and Antonia Eberwein of criminal activity by stating: “How could the president and vice-president of IADAA find themselves involved in such trafficking?” – and this despite the article already admitting that the police did not have evidence to support the claims.
Fansten’s reporting includes an additional smear, referring to an IADAA newsletter of nearly three years ago: “In a September 2020 newsletter, shortly after the seizure by the American authorities of the sarcophagus sold by Christophe Kunicki to the MET in New York, Vincent Geerling had openly taken the side of the people targeted by the investigation, not hesitating to criticize the investigations conducted in the United States.”
A reading of the newsletter entry shows this to be untrue. In fact, it explores the conflicting claims made by all sides in the debate over a stele and the sarcophagus mentioned, including the contradictory available evidence, and concludes: “All these questions need to be answered before we judge those involved.”
Somehow, from this Fansten concludes that the case had “multiple ramifications [which] ended up spilling over to the Dutch dealer [Geerling], who officially closed his Amsterdam gallery to focus on his lobbying and consulting activities.” Another unsubstantiated smear. In fact, Vincent Geerling had nothing to do with the case and closed his gallery for no other reason than that he was retiring as a dealer at the age of 72.
Because Antonia Eberwein’s mask is clearly not the one seen on Facebook, it is also not related to all the additional claims Fansten makes in his article regarding a looted Egyptian sarcophagus being cut up and sold off in pieces. This demonstrates Fansten’s ignorance further, since such cartonnage parts were never part of sarcophagi but were separate pieces with which mummies were dressed, so cannot have been cut from them. This basic error calls into question the entire set of claims surrounding this other “crime”.
Maître Debie, who had supplied the extensive dossier of information and a briefing to Fansten on behalf of Vincent Geerling and Antonia Eberwein, has condemned the journalist for his actions and, under French law, demanded that Libération publish a robust response which he has written addressing the false claims. The Gazette de l’Hôtel Drouot has also published a rebuttal article from Maître Debie in French and English.
Meanwhile IADAA is reviewing the matter further with a view to additional action.