Guatemala’s expat community rocked by relic smuggling charges

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ANTIGUA, Guatemala (AP) — Two Americans, one a photographer and the other a connoisseur of Mayan folk art, face charges of smuggling pre-Hispanic artifacts into Guatemala on Tuesday in a case that rocked the normally tourist town. quiet of Antigua.

Antigua, just outside Guatemala City, is a place where visitors and expats alike live among the centuries-old ruins of colonial buildings and volcanic peaks, admiring the bustling craft and arts scene.

American Stephanie Allison Jolluck was part of that community after moving from the Atlanta, Georgia area. She wrote on her photography website, “I am a designer and social entrepreneur who has always been fascinated by Indigenous cultures. As a lover of ethnographic art, antiques and handicrafts, I enjoy shopping in markets all over the world.

It was on one such shopping trip that she claims to have picked up two ceremonial basalt stone carvings, which she told a judge she thought were cheap souvenirs at a public market in Antigua, allegedly as a gift for his brother.

Guatemala’s Ministry of Culture said the two stone sculptures were made between 600 and 900 AD. chopped.

She was released on bail after being arrested at the airport because she was a longtime resident of Guatemala. But Jolluck and his American companion, Giorgio Salvador Rossilli, were arrested again on Sunday when they were found with 166 Mayan artifacts in their vehicle.

Rossilli is listed as the author of a two-volume work on “Masks of Traditional Guatemalan Dances” and was recognized as one of the curators of the Los Angeles Art Exhibits of Pre-Hispanic Artifacts several years ago. .

Rossilli is also listed as a donor to the La Ruta Maya Foundation, which lists as its main work “the recovery of archaeological artifacts that have been illegally taken out of the country”.

After the police arrested them, Rossilli apparently claimed ignorance. Prosecutor Jorge Alberto de León said the couple told a judge they believed the artifacts were cheap reproductions.

“They argued that because they’re foreign, they can’t tell one room from another,” de León said. “They told the judge that because these were pieces of stone they had seen being sold in markets, they never imagined they were ancient archaeological pieces.”

Guatemala’s culture ministry says 90% of the 166 artifacts – mostly stone carvings – found in the couple’s vehicle are authentic. Traffickers of relics and archaeological artifacts face between 5 and 10 years in prison if convicted in Guatemala.

De León said Rossilli also maintained that the pieces were not his and that he had given them to be restored by someone else, and returned them when detained. Why anyone would want to restore fakes was unanswered.

Court secretary Milton Benítez said a local architect, Franklin Contreras, claimed the rooms belonged to him. Private citizens can hold such artifacts in Guatemala as long as they prove they were not looted from ruined sites and register them with the government.

On Monday, Judge Sherly Figueroa released Jolluck and Rossilli on bail of around $6,400 each and allowed them to keep their passports but barred them from leaving the country. They will have to report to the prosecutors’ offices every two weeks as their case continues.

Jolluck’s attorney, Juan Carlos Velasquez, declined to discuss the case with reporters, saying, “I don’t litigate in the media.

The expat community in Antigua and greater Guatemala seemed somewhat divided over the arrests.

In a Facebook group of expats, many warned against a rush to judgement, noting that it would take an impartial investigation to determine whether the coins were in fact genuine.

said Ivan Borja, a resident of Antigua. “From people I’ve spoken to in the expat community, the news has come as a shock.”

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