Europol has admitted not having any reliable statistics to support its headline claim over stolen objects in Operation Pandora VII, aimed at tackling cultural property trafficking.
Many media outlets have covered the results of the latest transnational operation co-ordinated by Interpol and Europol with a view to tackling trafficking in cultural property.
Pandora VII, led by the Guardia Civil in Spain, took place over 11 days in September 2022 with two cyber weeks in May and October.
The Europol media release itself stated that the operation led to the arrest of 60 people and the recovery of 11,049 stolen objects across 14 countries.
As the ADA knows well, there is a great deal of difference between seizing items and showing that they are stolen, just as arrests do not equate with convictions.
These operations, along with others named Athena and Odysseus, have been running for almost a decade, and to our knowledge, the authorities have never published either conviction rates or figures confirming how many seizures later proved justified. The ADA and fellow trade association IADAA have sought this information from Europol more than once, but Europol has replied each time that it does not have it, which makes its official release claim this time that 11,049 seized items were stolen all the more surprising.
The twin priorities in carrying out these operations have always been to clamp down on money laundering and terrorism financing, but while there may have been limited evidence of the former across the years, we have heard of no evidence at all of the latter.
Once again we contacted Europol asking the following: a) How many arrests have led to successful convictions? b) How many seizures proved to be valid + how many had to be returned to their owners? c) How many seizures were shown to be linked to money laundering? d) How many seizures proved to be linked to terrorism financing?
As others have also argued, without these accurate clear-up figures, the data serves no purpose beyond propaganda.
Europol’s media office ADMITS IT HAS NO ACCESS TO VITAL DATA
Europol’s media office replied on May 10 as follows: “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to help as we do not have these figures. Europol is not a statistical organisation – Europol’s priority is to support cross-border investigations and the information available is solely based on investigations supported by Europol.”
Confirmation, then, yet again that Europol has no statistics to support the claims it makes, with the further emphasis that Europol is “not a statistical organisation”. If so, what is it doing making statistical claims it admits it cannot support in the introduction to its media release, claims that history tells us will influence policy at a national and international level, as with the introduction to this recent important European Commission document?
Interpol, which has also denied having any reliable statistical information in this field, compounded the error.
Arguably more shameful is the number of media outlets that have reported the unsupported claims Europol has put out in this release without checking them. Newspapers, art market websites and others – all of them experts in their own fields and trained to check their sources – have singly failed to do so in this case.
It also includes outlets whose credibility entirely relies on accurate data, such as the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Border Security Report (the Journal of border security and transnational crime).
This is not the first time this has happened; these operations have been going on for a decade and the ADA and IADAA have highlighted the failure of intelligence on numerous occasions. As we showed in this instance, a single email request revealed the truth. So why can’t the experienced journalists working on this story make such a simple check as this to ensure that their reporting is accurate?
One of the worst offenders was Ursula Scheer, a journalist for Frankfurter Allgemeine, who not only swallowed everything she was told without checking, but added even more bogus data to the story unchecked: “According to estimates by the FBI and UNESCO, the annual turnover of the global black market for art and antiques is ten billion dollars, which puts the black market right behind the illegal drug and arms trade.” She also stated: “Selling art and antiques helps mafia activities finance terrorism and war.”
Those who want to know where the bogus data ends and the accurate data begins can check on our Facts & Figures page, which includes independently verifiable data through quoted sources and direct weblink.