Coordinated raids on four Southern California museums Thursday suggest that the involvement of art institutions in the purchase of looted objects is far more extensive than recent high-profile scandals have indicated, reports the Los Angeles Times. Even as the country’s most prominent museums were embarrassed by revelations of stolen artifacts in their collections, several local museums continued to pursue objects they had reason to believe were taken illegally from Thailand, Myanmar, China and Native American sites within the United States, according to search warrants.
The raids marked the first public move in a five-year undercover investigation of the alleged smuggling pipeline, based largely on the work of a National Park Service agent who presented himself art dealers as an eager collector. Museum officials defended their practices and pledged to cooperate fully in the investigations. The action comes after several years in which the art world has been hammered by claims from Italy and Greece that major American museums — most prominently the J. Paul Getty Museum — purchased art that had been stolen from and smuggled out of those countries. The Getty agreed last year to return 40 of its most prized objects, following similar deals by museums in Boston and New York.