Morland was heir to a Quaker dynasty that made a fortune turning sheepskins into coats, and lived a gilded youth: his father was a renowned physician and his mother was a key figure in the modern art world, friend of George Orwell and Henry Moore. At 6ft 3in tall, good looking and well connected, Morland skied for England, had a beautiful wife and children, a des-res in south-west London, a farmhouse in Malta and the world at his feet.
More recently, this year, the Department of Homeland Security seized seven objects in the Honolulu Museum of Art’s collection because they had been notified that the works were smuggled into America. Six of the objects came from Subhash Kapoor, whom authorities believe looted over $100 million in art. After that, the museum’s director, Stephan Jost, returned the works that Greene donated eleven years earlier and found that no signed warranty was given to the museum either.
Buried treasure, mysterious deaths, looting, forged documents, secretive Swiss bank vaults and shadowy intermediaries. This is not a description of a Dan Brown thriller. It’s real life: the trade in illegally exported antiquities. As prices soar into the millions of dollars for the top pieces, so does the incentive to dig up treasures in Italy, Greece, Turkey and farther afield, pass them to “runners” who will sneak them illegally across borders, store them in a Swiss vault and then quietly slip them into the trade. The players in this murky world can make a fortune, but this is a dangerous game.