AC Highlights the Role of Financial Institutions in Combating Art Crime at CUNA BSA/AML Certification Conference with NASCUS

The American art market is the largest unregulated market in the world, making it vulnerable to a wide range of financial crimes. Financial institutions, like credit unions, can play a role in protecting our markets from bad actors, including those participating in the illicit trade of art and antiquities.

On November 8, Liz Fraccaro, Legal Consultant, represented the AC at the BSA/AML Certification Conference with NASCUS in Texas. Fraccaro spoke at a session, “Artful Dodgers: How Criminals Use Art and Antiquities to Facilitate Financial Crimes,” where attendees explore pathways to understand illicit financial activities and how to better protect their members and credit unions.

In her presentation, Fraccaro discussed how the lack of Anti-Money Laundering regulations on the art and antiquities markets in the United States created an attractive opportunity for financial criminals and kleptocrats to exploit for their own gains. The session also highlighted lessons learned from these illegal activities that have been useful when framing new laws and regulations and the opportunities available for stakeholders, governments, and policymakers to protect the legal art and antiquities markets.

The Antiquities Coalition, through our Financial Crimes Task Force Project, will continue to be a leader in this space as we find ways to protect the American art market from financial crimes. Learn more here.

AC Discusses Museums and Cultural Racketeering at ASOR’s Annual Meeting

In recent years, some of the world’s leading museums have been caught up in scandals, lawsuits, and even criminal prosecutions for acquiring, possessing, or even just displaying antiquities looted from their countries of origin to feed the black market in stolen art. Other cultural institutions, especially in Europe, have been thrust into the glaring spotlight for collections that were taken by colonial governments as spoils of war during conquests and occupations. 

These examples show that nearly half a century after the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in which the international community came together to fight cultural plunder and help “to make the necessary reparations,” much work remains to be done. It is crucial that everyone involved in museums—from their boards of directors, to their staff, to their donors—understand not only their legal and ethical obligations, but also the reputational risks facing institutions who have any association with disputed art.

On November 17, the AC’s Director of Programs Helena Arose joined a workshop event, “Giving it Back: Repatriation and the Ownership of Antiquity” as part of the 2023 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Overseas Research (ASOR) in Chicago. At the event, experts gathered to present specific examples of recent case studies, explore differing models justifying repatriation, and the examine current legal frameworks for repatriation.

In her presentation, Arose discussed the results of legal and public pressure on American museums, and how their status as trusted institutions may help them avoid accountability in the courts of law and public opinion. 

The American public is trusting museums to teach us about topics through objects. What does it say when we see examples of objects being acquired at best, no questions asked, and at worst with full knowledge of the illicit origin. When museums purchase or display a looted object, and mask that history (purposefully or not), they are betraying the public’s trust. When museums fail to listen to calls from the public to answer questions, make provenance information accessible, or repatriate an object, they are betraying the public’s trust.”

The Antiquities Coalition will continue to act as a resource as we find ways to strengthen international museum practices and global policies to fight the illicit antiquities trade.

Learn more about the ASOR Annual Meeting here.

AC Hosts A Conversation with the Editors of the Routledge Handbook of Heritage Destruction

On November 13, the Antiquities Coalition brought together the editors of the newly published Routledge Handbook of Heritage Destruction for a live conversation on the handbook and lessons learned from this resource on how to approach the problem of heritage destruction now and in the future.

The book, which came out this August, presents a comprehensive view of cultural heritage destruction, the methods scholars have used to study it, and the results of those methods. It explores legal and theoretical frameworks, as well as a variety of geographical and temporal case studies from Scandinavia and the Baltic region in WWII to Cambodia in the late 20th century, to Iraq and Syria in the last decade, and many more.

In a conversation moderated by AC’s Director of Programs, Helena Arose, the editors explained the development of the book, the purpose behind its structure and content, and lessons learned from the wide variety of case studies.

Key takeaways from the discussion included:

  • Researchers must elevate voices on the ground: It is key to respect and listen to the expertise of local populations when it comes to decisions about protecting heritage or investigating heritage destruction.
  • Heritage destruction comes in many forms: Culture is under threat from crisis, but also from development, construction, and other activity that occurs in peacetime. These types of destruction must also be studied and considered by researchers.
  • Heritage destruction is not only about the built environment: Cultural heritage destruction extends beyond tangible property, impacting people and intangible cultural elements such as traditions, practices, and livelihoods. A holistic preservation approach involves safeguarding both tangible and intangible cultural elements, recognizing their interconnectedness in cultural identity and heritage.

Learn more about the handbook herehere.

Watch the webinar here:


United States and Uzbekistan Sign New Cultural Property Agreement

Agreement Will Help Prevent Illicit Artifacts from Uzbekistan from Entering the American Art Market

On November 7, 2023, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Gayrat Fozilov, and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Assistant Secretary, Donald Lu, signed a bilateral cultural property agreement, committing both countries to combating the illicit trade in cultural property. This agreement closes U.S. borders to undocumented objects from Uzbekistan that may have been illegally obtained or exported, ensuring that they will not cross U.S. borders.

The Antiquities Coalition commends the United States and Uzbekistan for signing this agreement and strengthening their diplomatic ties in the fight to combat cultural racketeering. The nation’s rich heritage makes this agreement all the more necessary. Uzbekistan is home to seven world heritage sites, including Samarkand, a 7th-century B.C. Afrasiab City, known as the Crossroad of Cultures. 

With this signing, Uzbekistan became the first country in Central Asia to have a cultural property agreement with the United States (the U.S. imposed import restrictions on an emergency basis on certain categories of archaeological and ethnological material originating in Afghanistan in 2022). The Antiquities Coalition is encouraged by this action in the region, and we look forward to efforts by both nations to continue to combat this illicit trade.