The Antiquities Coalition Applauds House Committee for Protecting Multi-Billion Dollar American Art Market from Criminals

Enablers Act Paves the Way to Apply Anti-Money Laundering Laws to Art Dealers Following the Pandora Papers Exposé

WASHINGTON, DC (June 28, 2022) – The Antiquities Coalition commends the House of Representatives for taking an important step to close loopholes that have made the $28 billion American art market the largest unregulated market in the world.

On June 22, 2022, the House Armed Services Committee voted to include the Enablers Act in the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual congressional bill that establishes national security policies and spending. The Enablers Act amends the 52-year-old Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), the country’s primary law on anti-money laundering (AML), by expanding the list of high risk professions and industries who must assist the U.S. government in preventing and detecting financial crimes. Specifically, it adds “persons who trade in works of art, antiques, or collectibles.” 

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) championed the Enablers Act following the Pandora Papers investigation, which exposed the hidden assets, tax avoidance, and financial crimes of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people. These included prominent figures in the art world like Douglas Latchford, who for decades trafficked “blood antiquities” from Cambodia’s Killing Fields into leading museums, and then hid his millions of dollars in profits through the misuse of offshore accounts, tax havens, and trusts. The Antiquities Coalition worked extensively with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to support Latchford’s unmasking, in one of the many steps the organization is taking to emphasize that cultural racketeering is not a victimless crime. 

“The Antiquities Coalition appreciates that the House Armed Services Committee is taking this step to protect the American art market and our economic integrity from criminal misuse,” said Deborah Lehr, Founder and Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. “Increased transparency is in everyone’s interest–and especially that of responsible dealers, galleries, and auction houses. Recent scandals, law enforcement investigations, and prosecutions have rightfully eroded trust in this multi-billion dollar industry. The Enablers Act is an opportunity for legitimate businesses to grow and remain competitive internationally, where similar protections have already been implemented.”

The Antiquities Coalition’s Financial Crimes Task Force published a comprehensive report in 2020 that detailed how the American art market is dangerously susceptible to money laundering, terrorist financing, sanctions violations, and related crimes. Reframing U.S. Policy on the Art Market: Recommendations for Combating Financial Crimes also provided 44 solutions to address these challenges—the foremost of which was adding dealers in cultural property to the BSA. While what this requires in practice varies, and even if the NDAA is passed would be determined at a later date, the BSA has generally sought to reinforce good business practices like customer due diligence, record keeping, and reporting suspicious activity to the relevant authorities. In addition to expected businesses like banks, the statute already applies to sellers of precious metals, stones, jewels, automobiles, planes, and boats, as well as to casinos, real estate professionals, travel agencies, and pawn shops. Antiquities dealers were added by the NDAA of 2021.

The Antiquities Coalition appreciates that the House Armed Services Committee and the broader House of Representatives are working to address the troubling connection between cultural racketeering and financial crimes like money laundering and terrorist financing. To learn more about the Enablers Act, click here.

First Cultural Ministerial Meeting of the EU-Southern Partnership Tackles the Illicit Antiquities Trade

AC Joins Mediterranean Ministers of Culture In Calling for Strong and Urgent Regional Action 

The Mediterranean is home to a wealth of cultural heritage, and leaders from its governments must work together to protect this history from those who would seek to exploit it. 

AC Executive Director Tess Davis Presents at the Session Plenary

Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, Tess Davis, emphasized this message during the Conference of the Ministers of Culture of the Mediterranean on June 16 and 17, 2022.

Hosted by the Italian Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs, this two-day event in Naples, Italy, marked the first cultural ministerial of the EU-Southern partnership, the coalition between the European Union and its neighbors on the Mediterranean. Ministers of Culture from France, Albania, Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Spain, and more spoke alongside relevant European, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations. The Antiquities Coalition was honored to be one of the few non-governmental delegations invited to join and the only one from the United States.

The event uncovered how Mediterranean governments can collaborate to advance cultural diplomacy and protect heritage as a common good of the region, building off Italy’s successes during its 2021 G20 Presidency.

To protect Mediterranean cultural heritage, Davis proposed three recommendations for global leaders in attendance:

  1. Continue to link peace and security: Cultural racketeering is not a failure of preservation, but of governance, law, diplomacy, civil society, and markets. It can only be solved by strengthening law enforcement, international cooperation, and market integrity.

  2. Strengthen the legal framework: The 1970 UNESCO Convention was a watershed, but its drafters could not have envisioned the internet, instantaneous money transfers, or global direct shipping. Better use of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime could fill gaps left by the 1970 Convention, complementing UNESCO’s critical work. Governments must take better advantage of existing laws combatting fraud, money laundering, sanctions evasion, and terrorist financing—crimes that often go hand in hand with trafficking.

  3. Commit to continuing action: This ministerial sends a strong signal that the Mediterranean is building the political will to safeguard our shared heritage. Making this an annual convening would sustain this momentum and hold participating governments accountable to each other and the global communities while providing them with the incentive and support they need to succeed.

At the close of the event, participating delegations, including the Antiquities Coalition, signed the Naples Declaration, reinforcing several previous commitments to safeguarding cultural heritage, including the G20’s 2021 Rome Declaration

The Naples Declaration calls on stakeholders to develop a region-specific strategy for stable and lasting cultural cooperation, better integrate culture in foreign, development, and climate change policies, the promotion of joint initiatives, and much more.

The Antiquities Coalition supports the Naples Declaration and looks forward to continuing collaboration with Ministers of Culture in the Mediterranean region to combat the illegal trade of cultural heritage.

To watch Davis’s remarks, visit here.

Conflict Antiquities: Prosecuting Participants in the Illegal Antiquities Trade

The illegal trade of antiquities is not a victimless crime. Across the globe, the looting of cultural heritage and antiquities is a source of conflict funding for some of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations and criminals. However, these crimes often go unprosecuted and unreported, despite serious humanitarian consequences.

Profits generated from the illegal trade of antiquities are used by terrorist organizations to fund violence, purchase weapons, and recruit and compensate members. Often, even when perpetrators of cultural racketeering are brought to justice, they do not face serious consequences that would deter their involvement in illegal trade. 

The Antiquities Coalition is thrilled to have the support of The Docket, a project of The Clooney Foundation for Justice, whose investigation and report Looted Antiquities: Financing War Crimes and Terrorism makes the case that these perpetrators should be charged with funding of terrorism and war crimes for their involvement in the illegal trade of antiquities. In 2020, The Docket launched a multi-country investigation tracking the smuggling of antiquities from Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen into European markets and the United States. The Docket explores international networks responsible for the looting and smuggling of antiquities from the MENA region, and details how the trade of these stolen artifacts funds war crimes and terrorism, and how these crimes can be prosecuted. 

At a Roundtable Luncheon with the Antiquities Coalition, Anya Neistat, Legal Director of The Docket, joined Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, for a conversation about the findings of the report and next steps that might aid in the global fight against looting. 

Neistat explained that The Docket sought to build a case that there is reason to charge these perpetrators of cultural racketeering for war crimes and funding of terrorism on the grounds that traders are often aware that the sale of their items ultimately benefited terrorist organizations abroad. These charges carry heavier sentences than the typical financial charges that illegal traders may have previously faced and seeks to draw attention to the reality of the illegal antiquity trade as a significant funding source for violent organizations. The Antiquities Coalition supports this new approach. 

It’s important for the public and lawmakers to recognize that cultural racketeering is not a victimless crime of the elite class. Through extensive open-source and field research, The Docket prepared investigative files on individuals and entities involved in the antiquities trade in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, and the United States. Additionally, The Docket has established relationships with law enforcement authorities in these countries to trigger the prosecutions of these individuals as accomplices to war crimes and financing of terrorism. 

It’s important that world leaders, as well as the public, understand the stakes and consequences of the illegal antiquities trade and take steps to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes. The Antiquities Coalition thanks The Clooney Foundation for Justice and all participants in our roundtable discussion for their work to end cultural racketeering and uncover strategies to safeguard our shared cultural heritage.

Antiquities Coalition: Metropolitan Museum of Art Should Convene Task Force Against Cultural Racketeering

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York needs to take strong, concrete, and immediate action following reports linking it to an organized trafficking network that smuggled millions of dollars worth of artifacts from areas of unrest in the Middle East.

On June 1, the Art Newspaper broke the story that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had seized 5 Egyptian treasures worth over $3 million from the Met, alleging they were evidence of the criminal possession of stolen property and conspiracy. The seizure was part of a police probe, now spanning several countries, that first made headlines in 2019. That year, the Manhattan DA’s Office had conducted another major seizure at the museum—of a 2,100 year-old gold coffin worth $4 million, which had been looted from Egypt during the chaos of the Revolution, and then laundered into its collection on forged papers.

These two seizures, of six masterpieces worth $7 million, are just the latest ethical and legal challenge to face the Met, but they may not be the last. The museum is also reviewing at least an additional 45 antiquities that may be stolen property.

The Met is not the only cultural institution caught in the dragnet that led to the Egyptian seizures. In France, Jean-Luc Martinez, a scholar and statesman who headed the Louvre for nearly a decade, is currently under investigation for laundering and fraud, as are a number of his former colleagues and associates. In response to these reports, and in great contrast to the Met, France has urgently convened a new task force to counter cultural racketeering. This group, just announced by Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malik, will be chaired by leaders from the arts, government, and private sector, including Arnaud Oseredczuk, Marie-Christine Labourdette, and Christian Giacomotto. Malik has requested their report by this summer.

It is critical that the Met take steps to regain public trust. The museum is now setting the standard for what not to do on the U.S. art market, when it should be the gold standard for due diligence and transparency. We urge the Met to follow France’s example and put together a task force of distinguished experts to uncover why these ethical and legal lapses happened, and more importantly, ensure they never happen again.

In response to the recent developments, the Met has denied any wrongdoing, instead referring to itself as “a victim of an international criminal organization.” However, in the last decade, even separate from this investigation, the museum has been no stranger to government seizures or repatriations. It has been forced to return millions of dollars worth of stolen art to countries around the world, including not only Egypt, but Cambodia, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, and Nepal.

You can view some of these cultural treasures, along with others recovered from the New York art market, on our interactive timeline here.



Antiquities Coalition: Art World Must Remain Vigilant Against “Blood Antiquities” Threat

Statement Follows Reports Implicating Metropolitan Museum of Art and Former Louvre Director in Trafficking Conspiracy

The Antiquities Coalition commends Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for the seizure of 5 Egyptian masterpieces, worth over €3 million euros / $3.2 million dollars, from New York’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art (“the Met”). A search warrant alleges the artifacts are evidence demonstrating “the crimes of criminal possession of stolen property” and “conspiracy to commit the same crimes.” The Art Newspaper broke the story on June 1.

The seizure is part of a wider criminal probe, involving police in several countries, that has exposed an international trafficking ring operating out of Egypt and war zones such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen. As part of this investigation, just last week, French authorities reported they are also targeting Jean-Luc Martinez, a French scholar and statesman. Martinez headed the Louvre Museum in Paris for nearly a decade and is currently France’s special ambassador for international cooperation on cultural heritage.

“The Louvre and the Met were the gold standard—tarnished now—of museums around the world,” said Deborah Lehr, Founder and Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. “Yet even as they spearheaded commendable efforts to fight ISIS’ illicit trade in ‘blood antiquities,’ both failed to keep their institutions from entanglement in a criminal network that smuggled millions of dollars worth of cultural treasures from areas of unrest in the Middle East. This disconnect should serve as a warning. If our foremost museums, with entire departments of lawyers and scholars on staff, cannot ensure their collections are not the products of crime and conflict, then there is a clear and urgent need for stronger legal protections in the art market.”

The Antiquities Coalition has frequently warned that the $65.1 billion dollar art market remains the largest unregulated market in the world. Museums have a unique opportunity—as well as a responsibility—to set the legal and ethical standard for all who operate within this wider market. Many are thankfully meeting this challenge head on, but this week’s news shows there is much more that can be done.

Here are five recommendations that could have a significant impact:

Hire an independent, outside firm to conduct a comprehensive and credible external investigation. The Louvre, Met, and all other museums implicated in this matter are public institutions. The public has a right to know whether they followed not only the letter, but the spirit of the law.

Understand the problem. It is critical to combatting looting and trafficking, recovering stolen works, and ensuring marketplace integrity. The art market and museum community, due both to their unmatched expertise, as well as their unique situation, can help answer questions no others can. There is also a real need to report suspicious activity to relevant authorities when permitted by law.

Launch an awareness campaign. As educational institutions, museums have an unmatched platform to help policymakers, the art market, and the general public better understand the threats from cultural racketeering and how we can fight back together. Through exhibitions, lectures and other programming, they could reach a wide audience.

Strengthening best practices. Many of the ethical guidelines, national laws, and international treaties we rely on to combat the illicit trade are now decades old. It is time to upgrade our strategies, just as criminals have updated theirs, to protect both our cultural heritage and the legitimate art market. Museums should be at the forefront of efforts to do this.

Capacity building. Training in provenance research and authentication, as well as having dedicated museum staff to research acquisitions and object history, can make a significant difference. As this case demonstrates, such steps are also needed to protect institutions not only from unethical behavior, but criminal liability.