Antiquities Dealer Sues Wall Street Journal Over Article on ISIS Link

Odysseus hiding under a ram to escape from the cave of Polyphemus, part of the Torlonia Collection.
Odysseus hiding under a ram to escape from the cave of Polyphemus, part of the Torlonia Collection.
(Fondazione Torlonia Onlus)

An antiquities dealer has sued the Wall Street Journal over an article linking his family-run art gallery to ISIS, reports Courthouse New Service. It is the second major lawsuit instigated by the gallery this year.

Hicham Aboutaam, head of the Manhattan-based Electrum, the agent for Phoenix Ancient Art, claims defamation by the paper, which is owned by conservative media magnate Rupert Murdoch. Aboutaam also maintains a gallery in Geneva with his brother. The gallery regularly exhibits at the world's top-tier art fairs.

His 30-page complaint alleges "outrageous libel" by the paper and also names the Journal’s corporate parent Dow Jones and Company in the suit.

Filed on Monday at Manhattan Supreme Court, the complaint alleges: “For months in early 2017, The Wall Street Journal made clear that it was relying on false information and non-existent or unreliable sources to cobble together a story purporting to link plaintiff’s business activities to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

“After ignoring months of assiduous attempts to guide and correct the reporters’ misconceptions, misunderstandings, and incorrect assumptions, the Journal published a prominently featured article that – though it revealed no links between plaintiff and any antiquities that were bought or sold to support ISIS – nonetheless purported to link plaintiff with ISIS funding through defamatory statements and manipulative juxtaposition of information about plaintiff with unrelated information about ISIS funding activities,” Aboutaam states.

Aboutaam seeks unspecified damages on two claims of defamation. He says in the suit that his "personal and professional reputation and professional opportunities have been decimated."

Phoenix Ancient Art sued the Getty in federal court in January over the supposed brokering of a deal for the Torlonia collection of ancient Roman and Greek sculpture, owned by a private Italian family. The suit alleges that the Getty “stole the value of years of work and relationships cultivated by plaintiffs in violation of their contractual and legal duties," and sought $77 million from the institution for allegedly usurping the dealer in the final stages of a multi-billion dollar transaction.

The Getty told CultureGrrl that the Torlonia Collection had been transferred to the Italian government and that there was no deal with the Getty. On July 18, CultureGrrl got this update from Ron Hartwig, the Getty Trust’s vice president for communications: “We have moved to dismiss all of the tort claims and we are prepared to litigate any remaining issues should that be necessary. The fundamental premise remains the same: There was never a deal. We are waiting for the court’s decision.”

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