Matthew Bogdanos, the tireless vigilante of stolen cultural property

Matthew Bogdanos, the tireless vigilante of stolen cultural property

Matthew Bogdanos does not bother with salamalecs. Passing through Paris at the end of June for a series of ultra-private conferences on the trafficking of cultural property, the assistant to the Manhattan prosecutor grants us forty minutes of interview, not one more.

Lively and intractable, pugnacious and sarcastic, this amateur boxer has been familiar with crime scenes for more than thirty years, rooms with walls lined with blood and corpses still warm to be autopsied. But, for the general public, he is above all the face of the fight against the trafficking of cultural property.

It was he who traced the trail of a major embezzlement around Egyptian objects purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a case that earned the former boss of the Louvre Jean-Luc Martinez an indictment on May 25.

He again who orchestrated, in 2017, the return to Lebanon of a marble bull’s head loaned by a couple of American collectors to the Metropolitan Museum. The fall of merchant Subhash Kapoor, guilty oftrafficking in Indian objects worth more than $100 million? Him again. In ten years, Bogdanos and his brigade seized more than 3,600 archaeological objects worth 200 million dollars (192 million euros).

He didn’t see his children grow up

His vocation as an art vigilante was born in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001. This son of Greek restaurateurs, who was fed as a child at theIliad, of Homer, believes in heroes, in the code of honor and in a sense of duty. Without hesitation, the reserve soldier takes up arms again. In April 2003, the former marine was sent to Iraq, in the chaos of war. Its task is twofold: to dismantle terrorist cells and find evidence of the presence of an arsenal of illegal weapons in violation of United Nations resolutions. He adds a third mission to it, find the thousands of objects stolen from the National Museum of Baghdadone of the richest for the art of Mesopotamia.

“I am the head of the investigation, the prosecutor and the chief magistrate. I don’t have to think for hours before deciding. »Matthew Bogdanos

Between April 10 and 11, 2003, the museum was ransacked: windows smashed, statues smashed, sometimes decapitated, offices ransacked… In a few hours, 15,000 objects were stolen. The American army, which let it go, doesn’t give a damn about antiquities.

Matthew Bogdanos has an atypical profile. Passionate about archeology, he says he knows how to distinguish an Akkadian object from a Sumerian one, originating from two empires settled respectively in the southern and northern part of Mesopotamia. To convince his superiors, he advances an unstoppable argument: the financing of terrorism and the antiquities market are linked. From this epic hunt he will draw, in 2005, a book written with William Patrick, Thieves of Baghdad (“Thieves of Baghdad”, Bloomsbury, untranslated).

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