Interrelations in the protection of cultural property – the American way

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by Annika Backe
translated by Christina Schlögl

May 11, 2017 – On Friday, 24 March 2017, the UN Security Council unanimously accepted Resolution 2347 to the protection of cultural property. UNESCO general secretary Irina Bokova deemed the destruction of cultural property a war crime. The fight against terrorism had to include the protection of cultural property, she said. Everyone who has seen images of ISIS’ destruction of Iraq and Syria will agree with her. But collectors and traders have serious doubts if politics react adequately. Since Germany has enforced the law for the protection of cultural property (German abbreviation KGSG), prepared by minister Monika Grütters, on 6 August 2016, coin enthusiasts in the US feel increasingly criminalised by similar propositions. A glance over the pond also shows how tightly politics and economics are woven together when it comes to the subject of cultural property protection.

The protagonists

Deborah M. Lehr is equally prominent and present. She is the founder of the Antiquities Coalition, which is a (negatively connoted) household name to many local collectors, too. This party has repeatedly and tirelessly argued that ISIS finances itself with the 7 billion US-dollar earnings of the illegal trade with looted art pieces, mostly from Iraq and Syria. Regardless of the fact that these claims have been disproved by experts, Lehr publically tells people what she thinks of those she deems the “bad guys” – the villains in this affair: ISIS and the traders, while the latter are probably meant as representatives of the entire art market. 

Since Ms Lehr gives the impression of wanting to get rid of the art market – eventually also in its legal form –, a great opposition is forming among American coin enthusiasts. Legal experts such as Kate Fitz Gibbon are speaking out on platforms like the Committee for Cultural Policy and call to act with sound judgement. Peter K. Tompa, a keen collector of ancient coins, also uses this platform to comment on the latest developments in his blog Cultural Property Observer. Lately, he has repeatedly been posting proof of personal interrelations between Deborah Lehr and her direct environment of politics and the economy. 

Ms Lehr is ideally equipped for her mission: according to filings with American tax authorities, her organisation, the Antiquities Coalition, has been subsidised with a generous 1.4 million dollars from parties who remain anonymous. This allows for maintenance of a think tank with research fellows. All media, including social media, are used to propagate the task they have formulated for themselves. According to the website, the organisation unites “a diverse group of experts in the global fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organizations.”
On the other hand, Ms Lehr’s attempts to disclose her relations to the economy are less intense. She is married to John F. W. Rogers, the chief of staff at the globally active investment banking- and stock broking business Goldman Sachs. Their very close relationships to the Clinton family since 1990, according to media reports, intensified in the 2000s. In her presidential campaign, Hilary Clinton was heavily burdened by the numerous contributions and benefits she had received. And under President Donald Trump, former Goldman Sachs vice president Gary Cohn has been promoted to chief economic expert of the US. 

Dina Powell, who has been recruited by Lehr’s husband while she was still in the State Department under President Bush, is also at Goldman Sachs. During the Bush administration, she was jointly responsible for the tightening of the import conditions on Cyprian coins in 2007. Critics see this as a precedent, which also caused more strict limitations of the import of coins from other countries like Italy and Greece. As the media has recently reported, President Trump plans on making Dina Powell – currently his advisor for economic initiatives – his new deputy advisor for national security. The American community of collectors now fears that, under the cover of the fight against terrorism, she could push even more massive restrictions through. 

And there are even more personal interrelations around Deborah M. Lehr. She is one of the founders of Basilinna. This company offers highly remunerated advisory services to businesses from China and the Middle East as a mediator at the intersection between government and the economy. Katie Paul, head of the department for multi-media communications, is also on board. And apparently, Ms Paul has been doing a good job, seeing as she is chief of staff next to Deborah Lehr at the Antiquities Coalition. 

Far reaching relations

Now, here in Germany, one might be under the impression that all of this is very far way. But this is not the case. Ms Lehr is not only supported by the American government. She also closely works with UNESCO, whose regulations have a great impact on the global art market. And German coin lovers will start thinking about the saying that one is linked to every person around the world by a maximum of six stages, at the least when they learn that Deborah Lehr’s husband is part of a committee which also entails German Culture Minister Monika Grütters…

Read more on the tightening of the American laws on the protection of cultural property in this report of CoinsWeekly.

You can find out more about Peter K. Tompa in our numismatic Who’s Who. 

And in our archive of CoinsWeekly, you will find much more on the subject of protection of cultural property.