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
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%.
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)
- 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.