Entertainment Drake's journey from 'Degrassi' to world domination

00:00  20 october  2021
00:00  20 october  2021 Source:   starsinsider.com

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For more than a century, this sacred treasure was hidden in a New Zealand swamp before being spirited away to Europe. This is how it was returned.

On October 3, 1977, five year-old Graziella Ortiz-Patino was kidnapped by Italian criminals.

She was outside her home in Geneva, Switzerland, on her way to kindergarten, when two men grabbed her and knocked out her driver.

Police later found the getaway car but no other trace of the girl or her kidnappers.

Graziella's older brother Nicolas was nine at the time.

"It was a big story in Geneva. It was the story," he recalls.

"Outside the house, journalists lined up … with their cameras [and] their zooms, in the trees, behind the fence, in the fence, in the garden. They were everywhere."

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Graziella's father George Ortiz, a wealthy, well-known art collector, went on national television to plead with the kidnappers to be kind to his daughter.

He also asked journalists to stop phoning his home in case they clogged up the line when the kidnappers tried to call.

"Those 11 days were horrible," Nicolas Ortiz says.

"You can't imagine. I mean, it was really, really harrowing."

Finally, the kidnappers rang to name their price: $US2 million, paid in used bills.

George Ortiz borrowed the money and paid the ransom.

A few hours after that, Graziella was found alive on the side of a highway between Geneva and Lausanne.

Nicolas Ortiz says the ordeal deeply affected his parents.

For a long time, his father could not talk about the kidnapping, he says.

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"He just kept it inside himself," Nicolas says. "He didn't want us to feel the anguish."

But he did have to repay the funds he had borrowed for his daughter's ransom.

George Ortiz had been born into a life of extreme privilege: his father was the Bolivian ambassador to France, his mother the daughter of a Bolivian iron magnate who was one of the world's wealthiest men.

He'd reportedly inherited his wealth from his mother and he had borrowed the funds from her to pay the ransom.

To repay her, George Ortiz auctioned a substantial number of items from his private collection.

This was not just any collection. George Ortiz had amassed one of the largest, most valuable private art collections in the world.

"He was a fanatic collector," Nicolas Ortiz says.

"He loved art. He was running from museums to galleries all the time, going to exhibitions.

"It wasn't just objects [for him]. It was much deeper."

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The auction, to be held at Sotheby's in London, attracted international attention.

But among the auction lots, there was something that would trigger a decades-long conflict and influence a change to a UNESCO convention.

That something was the Motunui epa, five intricately carved wooden panels belonging to New Zealand's Maori people, and the traditional owners would not rest until they were returned.

Taranaki is on the west coast of New Zealand's north island.

The region's most famous feature is its mountain, Mount Taranaki or Taranaki Maunga.

The dormant volcano is one of the most symmetrical mountains in the world.

The coastline of Taranaki is just as dramatic, with black sand beaches made from volcanic rock.

"It's the most beautiful place in the world," Dr Rachel Buchanan says.

A historian, archivist and speech-writer, Buchanan says the region is her "spiritual homeland".

"I'm a descendant of Taranaki and for 22 years now, I've been researching stories connected with my whakapapa — which is genealogy — stories connected with Taranaki," she says.

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But 200 years ago, Taranaki was also a very dangerous place to be.

The early 19th century saw the start of what Buchanan describes as "100 years of terror".

In what's now known as the "musket wars", Maori nations battled each other for land using weapons obtained from the British.

"Hearing the sound of a gun for the first time, you know, seeing what a gun could do to a human being, as opposed to a spear or a club … people were terrified," Buchanan says.

"A lot of my Maori relatives were forced to flee Taranaki and moved down the island to what's now called Wellington."

It was a rush. People took what they could carry — but there were some incredibly valuable things, which they hid.

Things like the carvings known as the Motunui epa.

These five wooden panels, the tallest more than one metre high, are deeply carved with interwoven figures.

Look more closely, and you can see faces peering out from the wood.

The carvings were made for the back wall of a storehouse, called a Pataka, which contained food supplies for the local people.

Pataka were usually raised on stilts to protect the contents from vermin. The epa would have been proudly on display.

Anyone passing by, Buchanan says, would have been greeted by the carved figures staring out at them from the epa.

But such buildings, and the large carvings that adorned them, would have been desecrated by invaders.

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"That was part of how you dominated," Buchanan says.

Panicked locals hid the epa in a nearby swamp for safekeeping.

"And then everyone fled."

They may have been expecting to return to recover the carvings but they weren't counting on the British sending more than just guns.

"No one knew in 1820 … that there would be thousands of people arriving from the UK and that the Taranaki world would be turned on its head."

And so the Motunui epa stayed in the swamp, hidden for more than a century.

Until someone dug them up.

Ron Lambert lives in New Plymouth — the biggest city in the Taranaki region – in a house that might as well be a museum.

"I've collected things since I was about knee high to a grasshopper, whether they be insects, birds, eggs or books," Lambert says.

In the early 1970s, he was working at the Taranaki museum when he started hearing rumours about something incredible that had been dug up from the ground.

Then he saw the photographs of five panels sitting in someone's backyard.

"They were obviously dug out of the swamp."

And they were "absolutely bloody stunning".

"They were in the unique north-Taranaki style, which has serpentine bodies and twisted limbs and things like that — they're very deep, almost three dimensional figures."

That was the last Lambert saw of them for around six years.

Then, one evening in 1978, he had a call from a friend asking if he'd seen the TV news.

The BBC had a story about a Sotheby's auction that included five Taranaki panels.

Lambert immediately rang the director of New Zealand's National Museum, and asked if he had a photograph of the panels in the auction.

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"He said, 'Yes, I've got a catalogue in front of me at the moment.'

"I said, 'Well, is one of them on the left a totally different style, and the other side on the right is there a square hole in it?'

"He went silent for a while, and then said 'Yes, how did you know?'

"I said, 'Well, they were in Taranaki, in Plymouth, in 1972.'"

The provenance documentation, however, said the epa were formerly the property of a Mr Robert Riggs, of Philadelphia, who had originally purchased them in an antique shop in New London, Connecticut, around 1935.

Buchanan says that was "absolute total bullshit".

"Within 22 days, the New Zealand government had this writ and issued the injunction to stop the sale," she says.

But it was a sale that, on the other side of the world, a traumatised family was banking on.

Nicolas Ortiz said the injunction infuriated his father, who was still reeling from the stress of his daughter's kidnapping.

"He was furious he had to sell his collection, and then here comes a paper from New Zealand saying, 'Well, we're going to contest the sale'.

"When you're attacked, you get in an emotional state. You fight."

So, George Ortiz fought the injunction in court — and the details of how he came to own the Motunui epa came tumbling into the open.

Other previously hidden Maori artefacts had started appearing after World War II.

Machinery such as ditch diggers allowed developers and landowners to drain the swamps where they lay hidden.

In 1972, two landowners were digging a ditch on their property in Motunui, in the north of Taranaki.

They invited local Maori man and shop owner Melville Manukonga to inspect the site and see if there were any artefacts.

"[He] was walking through the ditch and saw one face looking at him. And then, as he kept going, there were more and more faces looking at him," Buchanan says.

Manukonga excavated the carvings, put them in wet sacks and took them back to his house in New Plymouth.

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In an affidavit, Manukonga swears he asked the local museum to come and look at the carvings but the director never bothered to show up.

So he decided to sell the carvings to the highest bidder — and just by chance, a bidder came to town.

British art dealer Lance Entwistle, then in his late 20s, was travelling through New Zealand with his girlfriend, looking for items to buy.

When he saw the panels he was, in his own words, "dumbstruck".

"We knew we were in the presence of great art," Entwistle says.

Entwistle paid Manukonga $NZ6,000 for the carvings.

"That was more than an average year's income in New Zealand," says Buchanan.

"It was a substantial sum of money for someone running a small shop in a small town."

But then there was the matter of getting the carvings out of New Zealand.

New Zealand's Historic Articles Act required a permit to export traditional items such as the carvings — and Entwistle didn't have one.

So, he found another way to get the epa out of the country.

Years later, Entwistle told Nicolas Ortiz how he did it.

"He actually packed them in furniture and sent the furniture over to America," Ortiz says.

According to various legal documents, while Entwistle bought the carvings for $NZ6,000, he sold them to George Ortiz in 1973 for $US65,000.

As part of the sale, Ortiz agreed not to show anyone a photograph of the carvings for two years.

Entwistle did not discuss the details of how he got the carvings out of New Zealand with the ABC.

But he says "the dispersion of art" has been part of human commerce since ancient times.

"It continues to be very, very important," he says.

"[It's] important that art not be confined by nation state borders," Entwistle adds.

And if he had his time over again, would he have done anything differently?

"I think it's quite difficult to project oneself back to what one did in one's late twenties when one's in one's mid-seventies," he says.

"I don't think I can answer that question."

Buchanan believes the export of the carvings without a permit would not have been out of the ordinary at the time.

"Dealers, collectors and institutions all operated by [an] 'Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies' [understanding]," she says.

Ahead of the Sotheby's auction in London, New Zealand sued via the UK courts for the return of the Motunui epa.

The southern nation pursued the case all the way to the House of Lords, the highest court in the UK.

New Zealand lost.

In 1984, the House of Lords dismissed New Zealand's final appeal because the relevant New Zealand law did not apply in the UK.

"You couldn't have the law of New Zealand applying in the UK because that would be an exercise of extra territorial sovereignty," Buchanan says.

Never mind, she says, that the British colonisation of New Zealand was "a massive exercise of extra-territorial sovereignty".

"The British stole Taranaki," she says. "All of our ancestral land was taken by British law."

Toumairangi Marsh, a descendant of the Motunui tribe, says her mother and father used to talk about how fantastic it would be to see the panels return.

"We never, ever thought they were coming home," she says.

"It was something that was always a pipe dream for us."

Over the next decade, New Zealand tried several more times to have the carvings returned, without success.

Meanwhile, George Ortiz proceeded with the Sotheby's auction without the epa.

He put the carvings into storage, where they would remain until his death in 2013.

George Ortiz put the carvings into storage at the Geneva Freeport – a massive Swiss warehouse complex that is one of the most secretive vaults on the planet.

"[It's] a big, tax-free haven where people keep artworks and gold, cigars, cars, you name it," Buchanan says.

"I've heard it described as the 'world's biggest museum you'll never see'."

In 2014, Dr Arapata Hakiwai, from New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, and Kevin Kelly, from New Zealand's ministry of justice, travelled to Geneva to meet with the Ortiz family and view the carvings.

Hakiwai says he'd never before experienced security like that surrounding the Freeport, which he describes as "a fortress".

Inside were the Motunui epa.

"The power was immense," Hakiwai says.

"It went right through me, actually, when I saw them – just the sheer power of it in this dead space of concrete."

Nicolas Ortiz and Dr Arapata Hakiwai met in Geneva to discuss returning the carvings to New Zealand.

Nicholas then spoke to them in te reo Maori — the Maori language.

"To me, there was sincerity, there was genuineness," Hakiwai says.

The Ortiz family and the New Zealand government settled on a price for the epa, on the understanding the carvings would return to their traditional owners.

That price was more than $NZ4 million, making the Motunui epa one of New Zealand's most expensive artworks.

Nicholas Ortiz describes it as an "amicable deal".

"We didn't negotiate hard," he says. "We had a little negotiation and we rapidly agreed on the price."


The case of the epa led to lasting legal change in New Zealand.

"The Protected Objects Amendment Act was introduced in 2006 and that was basically the result of the theft of the epa, [and] led to the strengthening of those laws," Buchanan says.

The impact of the retrieval of the epa was also felt around the world.

Nicholas Ortiz says his father's legal battle with New Zealand was "a landmark case" that led to international action to prevent such exports.

Many countries went on to ratify a UNESCO convention on preventing the illicit export of cultural property, which was eventually strengthened in 1995 with the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.

And the epa returned home.

Toumairangi Marsh is now one of the guardians of the epa.

She says there was an earthquake on the day of the epa's official welcome home.

"I kind of looked around going, well, we don't want to say anything, but they could be shaking the ground to say, 'I'm here now and you're going to notice me'," she says.

The epa take pride of place in their new home at the entrance of New Plymouth's Puke Ariki museum.

It was an emotional homecoming, Marsh says.

"I just absolutely broke down. I cried like a young child."

This story comes from ABC Radio National's podcast. Season two was co-produced with CBC Podcasts. Listen for free on your mobile device on the ABC listen app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your favourite podcast app. It will also be broadcast on .


Reporting and writing: and  for


Digital production: Alexandra Spring, Simon Leo Brown and Sophie Kesteven

Images: Robin Martin, Getty Images, Libor Fousek, Phillip Capper, Simon Leo Brown, National Library of Australia, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Puke Ariki Museum, Daniel Rose, Stuff Limited.

Series Producer:

Executive Producer:

With thanks to: Puke Ariki Museum, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

The Queen and Prince Charles' bond .
When Prince Charles Philip Arthur George was born in November 1948 to the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, he was destined to be King. Though their relationship may not be the most emotionally close, it's safe to say that Charles has the utmost respect for his mother and has been preparing for virtually his entire life to be her heir ever since she ascended to the throne in 1952.

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