Spanish national police recently arrested an antiques dealer for selling a stolen Egyptian sculpture dated from 1450 BCE. The artifact was set to be offered by a Swiss gallery during the TEFAF Maastricht art fair in 2022 for €190,000 ($202,000), but removed prior to the event.

The suspect was charged with money laundering, smuggling, and falsifying documents.

“The arrested person was perfectly aware of the illicit origin of the Egyptian bust seized in the Netherlands,” stated a press release from Spanish authorities.

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The press release stated that an investigation began after the Swiss gallery had learned the piece had been linked a Barcelona antiquities dealer with ties to the trade of goods from conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East. The Swiss gallery had purchased the black granite head from a German gallery.

After the sculpture was given to Dutch police, authorities there sent a document to Spanish police reporting the item had been illegally marketed in Europe. Further investigation showed the granite sculpture had been acquired by the Spanish suspect in July 2015 from an international company based in Bangkok, Thailand.

Most importantly, the investigators were able to prove the Spanish gallery owner had falsified the provenance document for the sculpture and it was not part of a Spanish collection of archaeological objects from the 1970s. This false documentation was also what allowed the piece accepted for sale at the TEFAF art fair.

In an email statement to ARTnews, TEFAF Head of Fairs Will Korner said,“We are glad to hear of the progress in this case. We have been well aware of it since the start, and work closely every year with Dutch and international police forces, exhibitors, the Art Loss Register and our vetting committees. All these work to ensure every object and provenance of antiquities is reviewed, and as such this was removed before the fair opened in 2022.”

While police did not name the suspect in public documents, Lynda Albertson, the CEO of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, has claimed in a blog post that the individual in question is Jaume Bagot Peix, operator of the J. Bagot Arqueología gallery in Barcelona, Spain.

In 2018, Vanity Fair Spain published a feature detailing how Bagot Peix was under police scrutiny for allegedly acquiring artifacts looted from Libya in a scheme that financially benefited the Islamic State.

The arrest surprised art crime expert Christopher Marinello, who founded the firm Art Recovery International after working at the Stolen Art Database for more than seven years.

“There has been a lot of publicity about US antiquities dealers being arrested for falsifying provenance but this Spanish dealer apparently didn’t get the memo that you can’t get away with this,” Marinello told the National.

“What stands out is that the police in the Netherlands worked really well with the Spanish police, so it was good to see international co-operation, which happens very rarely,” Marinello added.

In an email to ARTnews, art and cultural property lawyer Yves-Bernard Debie said his Brussels firm represented Bagot and his gallery. “We can confirm that our client has not been arrested. The information that is being disclosed is false.” 

Updated, April 17, 2024: The sculpture was not at the most recent TEFAF Maastricht art fair, but the sessions in 2020 and 2022. Lynda Albertson is the CEO of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, not its president. The research-based organization work on tracking illicit material.

Updated: April 17, 2024: Addition of comment from Will Korner, TEFAF Head of Fairs and correction the sculpture was set to be offered at the art fair, but removed before its opening.

Updated: April 18, 2024: Addition of comment from art and cultural property lawyer Yves-Bernard Debie.