WCO report reveals the true picture about antiquities trafficking

For some time now, anti-trade campaigners, NGOs, politicians and even international law enforcement agencies have stated that trafficked antiquities are the third largest source of terrorist financing after trafficked drugs and weapons. These claims have always been unsubstantiated and although Interpol quotes a similar claim on its Art Crime page (“The black market in works of art is becoming as lucrative as those for drugs, weapons and counterfeit goods”), it then contradicts this in detail in the Frequently Asked Questions on the same page.

Now, however, the World Customs Organisation has included figures for trafficked cultural property, including antiquities, in its annual report for the first time and this gives us a clearer picture of what the situation really is. In summary, this is what it says:

Number of Seizures

Drugs: c.45,000

Weapons and ammunition: c.4500

Cultural property: 146

Of which antiquities (mostly coins, seals and jewels): c.70

So in terms of the number of seizures across these three areas, drugs account for 90.6% of seizures, weapons and ammunition 9.1%, cultural property 0.3%, of which antiquities account for 0.14%.

Volumes

Although there is no direct correlation between the three areas in terms of volumes seized, summary totals give some indication of comparative scale:

Drugs: c.1.5 million kilos

Weapons and ammunition: c.2.5 million pieces

Cultural property: 8483 items

Of which Antiquities: c.6600 items (including coins)

Details:

  • Drugs: 1 million kilos of cannabis, 180,773 kilos of cocaine, 99,000 kilos of khat, approx. 200,000 kilos of opiates, psychotropic and other substances. Total c.1.5 million kilos. Number of seizures: c.45,000.
  • Weapons & ammunition: number of pieces seized c.2.5 million. Number of seizures: c.4500.
  • Cultural Property: 8483 objects seized (Of which Antiquities c.6600). Number of seizures: 146. (Of which Antiquities c.70)

Also included in the report are figures for seizures linked to environmental (i.e. animal and plant) products. Again, exact comparisons are not easy, but the number of seized items alone rises towards the 750,000 mark, while the total number of seizures reported was 2225.

Art businesses ill-prepared for GDPR, new EU data protection law

ADA adviser Ivan Macquisten has written a detailed analysis on the upcoming changes in data protection regulations for the EU for The Art Newspaper. This includes the Information Commissioner’s Office advice on what steps for businesses to take now. These changes will affect all businesses operating in the market to some degree. You can read Ivan’s article at this link.

Theft of Viking Treasure Devastates Norwegian Museum

The Committee For Cultural Policy has highlighted the devastating theft of Viking material from the University Museum of Bergen. The burglary took place on the weekend of August 11-13 when the thieves climbed scaffolding to a seventh-floor window, broke in and stole 400 artefacts that were in temporary storage.

Full details available from the Committee For Cultural Policy website.

 

Further theft alert

This Egyptian stele, pictured right has been stolen from the Musée de Marseille. It is 24cm x 17.5cm x 7cm. Please contact the police if you see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrorism, Cultural Heritage and the Threat to Museums’ Public Missions

Collector Matthew Polk, a board member of the Committee For Cultural Policy and trustee of a number of museums, has written a detailed paper on how the war on terror has shifted cultural property policy from preservation to enforcement, with a number of unwarranted and unfortunate policies that have the potential to damage the trade and museums.

From grossly exaggerated figures for the revenues raised by ISIS from looted artefacts to the silencing of dissent on such topics, Polk studies their sources and effects, and notes how law enforcement policy has moved from evidence-based debate to political expediency.

“Reading this you could be forgiven for thinking that museums should just give up and close their doors,” writes Polk. “Museums take their public missions seriously and should be at the forefront of world cultural heritage preservation efforts. Instead, museums are being pushed aside as legislative efforts driven by a fear of terrorism create a nightmarish regulatory environment in which museums, their staffs, trustees and donors are often portrayed as villains.”

Proposals under the US TAAR Act are even worse: “It is a shocking but real possibility that US citizens and institutions could suddenly find themselves subject to thousands of foreign laws not even available in English which could be applied retroactively at the whim of government officials as will apparently now be the case in the EU,” Polk notes.

He also accuses law enforcement of preferring “high profile actions, such as the Elliot Ness style raids conducted during 2016 NYC Asia Week or Fish and Wild Life’s SWAT raids on Gibson Guitars in 2009 and 2011” and says this suggests that “they are more interested in high profile press coverage than in seeking cooperation to help stamp out illegal or destructive activities”.

“This is unfortunate as it has created an atmosphere of fear bringing less transparency to the art markets when what we need is more,” he concludes, adding: “Enforcement has also relied increasingly on civil forfeiture actions to seize objects even when no crime has been proven and customs continues to use administrative obstacles and minor paperwork errors as justifiable cause for seizing objects entering the country without having to prove they are in any way illegal.”

The full article appears on the Committee For Cultural Policy website.

European Commission to legislate over terrorist antiquities despite lack of evidence

The European Commission’s 199-page Deloitte report into tackling cultural property trafficking now confirms that there is no evidence at all that terrorism-related cultural goods are entering the EU, or that an illicit market in cultural property run by organised crime exists.

Despite this, the European Commission plans to press ahead with more restrictive import/export legislation from January 2019 to tackle a problem it has identified does not exist, even though the Deloitte report acknowledges this will damage the international art market.

Read Ivan Macquisten’s latest blog summarising the issues at hand.

How the European Commission is riding roughshod over the antiquities trade

The European Commission has announced that it will press ahead with controversial proposals for restricting the import of cultural property to members states. The news comes on the back of a survey of stakeholders across the European Union, including the art and antiques trade, to gauge the impact of such changes. As Ivan Macquisten’s latest blog explains, submissions by the ADA, IADAA and others appears to have been ignored in favour of poorly researched and inaccurate evidence.

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, supported by CINOA and the ADA, has written to the Regulatory Scrutiny Board (RSB) that assessed the impact assessment for this exercise and found it seriously wanting yet ultimately passed the measures. The letter asks the RSB to reconsider its position and re-evaluate the evidence in order to avoid a damaging outcome.