Honored for The Medici Conspiracy, along with with co-author Cecilia Todeschini.

Peter Watson is an investigative journalist and Research Associate at the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (University of Cambridge). Known as a “swashbuckling art journalist” to some (ArtNet Magazine), Peter Watson is well known in the art-literature market for his exposés of the darker side of the art world. His book The Caravaggio Conspiracy was the result of a sting operation during which he went undercover as a dealer to blow the lid off an art theft ring. In Sotheby’s: The Inside Story, Watson gained access to insider information from a Sotheby’s employee and revealed the auction house’s role in smuggling art and antiquities between countries and their arrogance in covering their tracks. Watson is the premier investigative journalist in this area — he writes for the New York Times and has written weekly columns on the art market for the London Sunday Times, Observer and Evening Standard.

Watson-MediciWith consummate knowledge of the topic, inside access to an important investigation in Italy and the fruits of his own investigation of Sotheby’s antiquities department in London, Mr. Watson and Ms. Todeschini document the network of tombaroli, middlemen, smugglers, and rogue dealers, collectors and museums that have all played a role in, or turned a blind eye to, the plundering of ancient sites and theft of ancient artifacts from Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean region. They have given us a work of astonishing scope and depth. Their prose and eye for detail rivet our attention on every page. Yet their summary of the role that museums play in the illicit antiquities trade may be the most important seven sentences in the entire book:

“The antiquities underworld is far more organized far more venal, far more deceitful, involves far more money, does far more damage, concerns many more objects, and corrupts far more people — and far more “respectable,” “professional” people — than anyone ever imagined. Bluntly, the situation is much worse than has been envisaged. Yet the world’s museums — many of them rogue until now — have it in their power to curtail this unfortunate trade. The fact is that, until now, and as this book has shown, the world’s rogue museums have been the real looters. It is the demand for ancient objects that begins with them, that induces collectors to acquire objects they can subsequently donate to museums, either for social advancement or for tax breaks. Copies of this book are being sent to all the trustees of the world’s museums that have dealt in these items. They are perfectly placed to clean up this regrettable business and to staunch the enormous drain of beautiful and important objects out of Italy and elsewhere.”

More than a description of individual wrongdoing, The Medici Conspiracy is an indictment of a culture — an influential and well-connected international network of dealers, collectors and museums — whose attitudes and practices, once revealed, cannot be allowed to continue.


With freshly-signed copies of The Medici Conspiracy from the Peter Watson lecture under their arms, SAFE supporters filled Alan Sokol and Marina Papa-Sokal’s West Village penthouse apartment for our first Beacon Awards Gala. Gathering for a glass of wine and stimulating conversation with old friends and a scrumptious buffet dinner prepared by chef Stephen Javaras, SAFE President Cindy Ho presented Beacon Awards to:

Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini for “The Medici Conspiracy“: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities—From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums” (2006)

Matthew Bogdanos for “Thieves of Baghdad”: One Marine’s Passion for Ancient Civilizations and the Journey to Recover the World’s Greatest Stolen Treasures” (2005)

Roger Atwood for “Stealing History”: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World” (2004)

Through the distinctive voice of its author(s), with different geographic emphasis and thematic approach, each book offers the general public insight into the complexities of the international black market trade of antiquities in an unprecedented way. Most importantly, the books recommend measures for curbing the international trade in illicit antiquities and details ethical collecting practices that all institutions and individuals should adopt.

At the Gala, we were treated to a few illuminating remarks by the Award Winners. We were also gratified by our guests’ generous donations, which were matched by SAFE Vice President Rick St. Hilaire, making this an even more successful fundraiser than we’d hoped.

Although the evening’s success owes much to the efforts of our volunteers and the distinguished Beacon winners who were kind enough to attend, to the largest measure of thanks go to the attendees themselves. Your charm sparkling intellect, charm and generosity made the first Beacon Awards Gala an event to remember. Thanks to everyone involved… we hope to see you at the next SAFE event.

SAFE’s newly established Beacon Awards recognize individuals who enlighten the public about the devastating effects of looting and the illicit antiquities trade.

“I had the best time… Fascinating crowd, diplomats and lawyers and writers, and all very friendly…What a lovely success…Really fantastic…”Gala guests


Thursday November 16, 2006
Lecture with Peter Watson at the Chelsea Art Museum followed by Awards Ceremony with Buffet Dinner

Download souvenir journal here and “like” SAFE Beacon Awards on Facebook.