Welcome To This Episode Of Our Podcast Series, AML Conversations.

In this edition of AML Conversations, AML RightSource Vice Chairman, John Byrne, sat down with the founder of the Antiquities Coalition. The Antiquities Coalition is a nonprofit organization created roughly four years ago to stop the use of stolen antiquities as terrorist financing tools for extremist organizations, a very compelling part of anti-terrorist financing. The Antiquities Coalition conducts excellent advocacy and awareness work dealing with the need for countries around the world to create relevant laws and regulations to address stolen antiquities and their use as a tool to commit horrific crimes.

AML Conversations is available to stream on SoundCloud and iTunes.

AML Conversations is dedicated to inform professionals and those interested in anti-money laundering about conversations happening in the government, private sector, and internationally. The series is composed of interviews, live programming, and panel discussions related to the industry to keep our listeners well-informed.

Learn more about AML Conversations here.

The Dark Side of Italy’s Exciting New Archaeological Discoveries

One of Rome’s newest finds, a military commander’s fourteen-room home. (Source: Smithsonian, Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism)

Residents, tourists, and archaeologists have hailed construction of Rome’s newest metro line–not only will it improve transportation across the city, it has also uncovered some striking archaeological finds, including bronze coins, pottery, and 2,000-year-old military barracks complete with mosaic flooring. While these discoveries further enrich our understanding of ancient Rome and add to the tapestry of Italy’s cultural heritage, such chance finds also face great danger. Italian patrimony has long been threatened by looting, with many priceless artifacts disappearing into the black market. These finds demonstrate how much of Italy’s past still remain uncovered, and thus at risk of falling into the wrong hands, only to be later sold to finance criminal activity or even terrorism.

Looting in Italy has been so dire that in 2001 a bilateral agreement was signed by the Italian and U.S. governments to protect the country’s heritage, imposing import restrictions on pre-Classical, Classical, and Imperial Roman archaeological materials in stone, metal, ceramic, glass, and painting. Later amended to include ancient coins, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) remains in effect until 2021, when Italy will again have the chance to renew. Another extension will likely be needed, as, despite international cooperation to stem the tide of looted antiquities, Italy’s heritage remains under threat.

A string of recent cases illustrates the peril to Italian patrimony even after the signing of the MOU. Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino’s 2011 book Chasing Aphrodite details how the Getty Museum bought looted Italian artifacts for years, ending in the trial of its antiquities curator in Italy and the return of a number of objects in the Getty’s collection. Today, the Getty Museum is entrenched in a legal battle over its “Victorious Youth” statue discovered off the coast of Italy, as Italian courts demand the bronze’s restitution. In the summer of 2017, a 2,300-year-old krater was returned by the Met after it was suspected of being looted. Most recently, the Italian Carabinieri, in cooperation with police units in Germany, the UK, and Spain, busted a decades-old international smuggling ring dealing in plundered Sicilian antiquities. Massive raids, as part of a sting dubbed Operation Demetra, resulted in at least forty-one detainments and the seizure of more than 25,000 objects. In fact, in a speech at the Smithsonian hosted by the Antiquities Coalition, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, head of the Carabinieri’s cultural heritage division, estimated that just in the last year, the Carabinieri seized around 300 million euros worth of stolen and illegally excavated artworks. Despite an MOU, repatriations, arrests, and seizures, looting shows little sign of slowing down in Italy.

Thankfully, Italy has a specialized police unit in cultural property, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Carabinieri TPC). Established in 1969 as the world’s first art crime squad, the Carabinieri TPC works to combat theft, illegal excavations of archaeological sites, and trafficking and counterfeiting of stolen property. Operation Demetra is just one example of the Carabinieri TPC’s success in combating the global trade in illicit Italian antiquities and in protecting their nation’s history.

The Carabinieri’s fight to protect Italian heritage has spanned decades and will probably last decades more. Archaeological discoveries, like the ones lying under the yet-to-be-completed C line, are constant, revealing entire new troves of precious artifacts that can easily land in the hands of looters. When an object is stolen, potential knowledge gained through them is lost since they require careful study, and plundered treasures often quickly vanish from the market to be hidden away in private collections or storage facilities. Despite their diligent work, the Carabinieri cannot prevent the massive scale of looting in Italy alone. Protecting Italian heritage requires the collaboration of archaeologists, customs officials, dealers, collectors, and international police, because when Italy loses its past, so does the world. Antiquities tell us so much about ourselves–where we have come from, the achievements we have made, the bounds of human innovation and artistic creativity–and are worth our shared efforts for their protection.


Ali Tyler is an intern at the Antiquities Coalition and a student at George Washington University, where she studies art history. If you are interested in interning at the Antiquities Coalition please send a resume and cover letter to cultureunderthreat@theantiquitiescoalition.org.

The AC Digs Into: The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules

Looking for a whimsical, adventurous read that digs into the world of art crime? Look no further than The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules (2016) by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, a former marine-archaeologist, and museum curator.

Set in Sweden, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules follows 79-year-old Martha Anderson, a Swedish pensioner with a knack for art crime. When Martha speaks out against her nursing home’s refusal to provide adequate food and medical care, she is quickly shut down with a heavy concoction of sedatives. However, Martha’s stubbornness forces her to take matters into her own hands; Martha gathers her closest friends and creates the League of Pensioners, a group dedicated to art crime. And of course, all proceeds go to the “Robbery Fund,” a stash of illicit money sent to nursing homes around Sweden.

For their first major heist, the League targets a pinnacle of Swedish national heritage: the National Museum in Stockholm. On a calm morning, the five pensioners sneak into the museum and, after creating diversions and red herrings, steal Renoir’s Conversation: An Impression from Paris and Monet’s From the Mouth of the Scheldt. While alarms blaze and security officers panic, the League of Pensioners calmy stroll down the grand stairways and out the main doors.

With the police hot on their trail, as well as the Swedish mafia and an escaped convict, Martha and the League of Pensioners, have a tough choice to make: return the priceless paintings, or cash in on their robbery? Could they choose to do both? Take a dive into Swedish art crime and find out for yourself.

You can purchase The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules and support the Antiquities Coalition’s efforts using Amazon Smile.

Tell Her (or Him) No*

Buying or Selling Antiquities Can Assist Terrorism

John Byrne
We are pleased to share this post by John Byrne. Mr. Byrne serves as Vice Chairman of AML RightSource. He is an internationally known regulatory and legislative attorney with more than 30 years of experience in banking and financial crimes. Mr. Byrne has particular expertise in all aspects of regulatory management, anti-money laundering (AML) issues and has served in leadership positions at trade associations, financial services industry groups, and government working groups. Mr. Byrne earned his undergraduate degree at Marquette University and his juris doctor at George Mason University School of Law.

After so many years of following the AML community and being a part of that great group, it is hard to surprise me on ways in which illicit funds can move to support a wide array of financial crime. So when invited to a recent roundtable discussion on yet another method for criminals to take advantage of, I was curious and wanted to learn more.

A joint program by the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute heard from Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli from the “Carabinieri Commander for the Protection of Cultural Heritage” on their efforts to, among other things, “identifying perpetrators of crimes against the cultural heritage, i.e., theft, receiving stolen property, unauthorized archaeological research, counterfeiting and forging, etc. and at recovering unlawfully removed goods.”

This Italian based law enforcement entity works far beyond their own borders and engage with Interpol, Europol and provide training to law enforcement in Iraq, Kosovo and many countries that seek their assistance.

To read more, visit AML RightSource.

Tell Her (or Him) No*

Buying or Selling Antiquities Can Assist Terrorism

After so many years of following the AML community and being a part of that great group, it is hard to surprise me on ways in which illicit funds can move to support a wide array of financial crime. So when invited to a recent roundtable discussion on yet another method for criminals to take advantage of, I was curious and wanted to learn more.

A joint program by the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute heard from Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli from the “Carabinieri Commander for the Protection of Cultural Heritage” on their efforts to, among other things, “identifying perpetrators of crimes against the cultural heritage, i.e., theft, receiving stolen property, unauthorized archaeological research, counterfeiting and forging, etc. and at recovering unlawfully removed goods.”

This Italian based law enforcement entity works far beyond their own borders and engage with Interpol, Europol and provide training to law enforcement in Iraq, Kosovo and many countries that seek their assistance.

One of the examples of how these groups address attacks on cultural heritage artifacts is the “Task Force on Unite4Heritage” that is both consistent with UN Resolution 2199 which condemns the destruction of artifacts in Iraq and Syria and stresses that illicit trafficking of artifacts are a new source of funding of terrorism.

Our meeting was held under the well-known “Chatham House Rules” so they will be respected here. Suffice it to say that the diverse group of experts were agreed on one point—raising cultural awareness here in the states and globally is essential. Also, there is a need for unique expertise on both the artifacts and those that profit from the same. We heard examples of the vast numbers of artwork stolen or forged and fortunately a large number has been recovered. Countries in danger include Libya and Yemen and there are concerns with organized gangs and individual sales of either stolen or counterfeit goods.

The good news that many groups are working on predictive analysis, potential indicators and counterparty risk but the AML community needs more information to be helpful in detection, prevention and reporting of this method of moving tainted funds to commit additional crimes.

The challenge is the lack of discussion and laws addressing these acts.

For example, here in the United States, the support of art dealers and auction houses clearly need a push. Just a few months ago, a member of congress introduced the Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Prevention Act that would add those entities to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).

As we all know, there are a few entities exempt from filing suspicious activity reports (SARs) such as dealers in art. Why is that the case? Everyone with a financial footprint should have an AML obligation, full stop.

So Rep. Luke Messer introduced his bill in May and pointed out that “in 2011, the FBI estimated that crimes relating to art and antiquities trafficking result in annual financial losses of up to six billion dollars per year.” Messer’s bill has broad support, including from the Smithsonian Institution, the Antiquities Coalition, the Monuments Men Foundation, ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiative, and the ARIS Title Insurance Company. The AML community should join in that support.

As the Antiquities Coalition has made clear in their support for the Messer bill that with the broad number of entities covered under the Bank Secrecy Act, “the multi-billion art market has been excluded— despite warnings from economists, law enforcement, and prosecutors that criminals are taking advantage of this loophole.”

Hopefully the bill can be included in the major AML reform package being considered by the House.

I have learned a little bit in this meeting but need to understand much more. One of the discussion points that was driven home was the need for broader awareness of society that criminals, terrorists and those that are simply wealthy want artifacts to sell, forge or display. As one participant emphasized today, we all have an obligation to know where what we purchased came from because it could be a precious artifact that now betrays an amazing culture. The financial sector can do more to determine whether a purchase or sale is suspicious.

And even if the artifact would complete a home or business, perhaps we tell that person simply No, because we don’t know where it came from…

* Tell Her No by the Zombies was released in 1964 and hit #6 on the Billboard Charts. It was written by Rod Argent, who later formed the band Argent.

Read the original article here.

Middle East Focus: Antiquities Trafficking and the Battle to Reclaim Cultural Heritage

The Antiquities Coalition founder Deborah Lehr recently sat down with Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, head of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute for a podcast discussing the illicit trade in antiquities and current efforts to combat looting. The Carabinieri has achieved a series of recent successes, including dismantling an international smuggling ring in a sting operation dubbed Operation Demetra. The Antiquities Coalition had the opportunity to host General Parrulli in Washington, DC, where he met with top experts in the field and government officials to explore innovative solutions to halt the illegal antiquities trade and improve multilateral efforts to safeguard cultural heritage.

Cultural Commander in the Capital

On a dark night in mid-October 1969, thieves with ties to the mafia snuck into a Palermo church and spirited away Caravaggio’s Nativity with Saints Francis and Lawrence. Nearly 50 years later, the masterpiece has not been recovered. Appalled by the theft of this work of creative genius from a place of worship, Italy formed a special task force to combat art crime. Since 1969, the Italian Carabinieri has dedicated a special unit, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (TPC), to combat the theft and looting of Italy’s cultural treasures. Fresh off of the art squad’s successful completion of a massive sting operation in July 2018, the Antiquities Coalition was honored to host the leader of the unit, General Fabrizio Parrulli, for a week-long visit in Washington, D.C.

Just prior to the General’s visit, the Antiquities Coalition published a review of The Medici Conspiracy, journalists Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini’s fascinating account of the Carabinieri’s investigation of a transnational antiquities trafficking operation at the turn of the 21st century. For readers eager to learn more about the Carabinieri or the black market in cultural property in general, this would be a great place to start.

Richard Kurin, Deborah Lehr, and Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli
From left: Acting Director of the Freer Gallery of Art Richard Kurin, Antiquities Coalition founder and chairman Deborah Lehr, and Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli discuss threats to cultural heritage after Parrulli’s speech.

On Wednesday, August 1, 2018, the Antiquities Coalition partnered with the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative to organize an event at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. featuring a speech by General Parrulli on the TPC’s efforts to protect cultural heritage. Richard Kurin, acting director of the Freer and Smithsonian ambassador-at-large, gave introductory remarks and moderated a discussion between the General and Deborah Lehr, founder and chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. Speaking before nearly 200 members of the audience in the classical marble villa of the Freer, Parrulli focused on themes including technology, international cooperation, and education. With gripping videos and photos, the General showed off the TPC’s use of innovative tech, including drones and its new smartphone app, iTPC. In another of the speech’s captivating moments, he spoke about culture and youth. Today’s society, the General declared, has a responsibility to the next generation to pass on cultural heritage in the best condition possible. This strong sense of duty is what motivates his work and guides the TPC’s initiatives to promote awareness of cultural racketeering through lectures at schools, universities, and other venues like the speech at the Freer Gallery. Those interested in the event can learn more about the General’s speech by reading the Antiquities Coalition’s full coverage.

Later that afternoon, Parrulli and Lehr recorded an episode of the Middle East Focus podcast on international efforts to fight antiquities trafficking. Issued by the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., the podcast regularly features experts on foreign policy and contemporary issues in the Middle East. In a conversation with Paul Salem, senior vice president for policy research and programs at the Middle East Institute, Perrulli and Lehr highlighted the Carabinieri TPC’s work protecting cultural heritage in Libya and Iraq.

The next day, the General took part in a roundtable discussion with cultural heritage experts hosted by the Middle East Institute. He presented an overview of the Carabinieri’s high-level achievements and future objectives. Antiquities Coalition Executive Director Tess Davis then moderated a conversation about ongoing challenges in the fight against the illicit trade in antiquities. Participants shared accounts of experiences from different countries and explored strategies for strengthening international cooperation.

From left: MEI Vice President Kate Seelye, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Antiquities Coalition founder and chairman Deborah Lehr, Antiquities Coalition, and Antiquities Coalition co-founder Peter Herdrich at a roundtable discussion with cultural heritage experts.
From left: MEI Vice President Kate Seelye, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Antiquities Coalition founder and chairman Deborah Lehr, Antiquities Coalition, and Antiquities Coalition co-founder Peter Herdrich at a roundtable discussion with cultural heritage experts.

Indeed, collaboration across borders was a major theme of the week, as General Parrulli sought to deepen ties between Italian and American advocates of cultural heritage protection. At the end of his remarks at the Freer, the General expressed the TPC’s mission to move from “the restitution of cultures to a culture of restitution.” By fostering connections between different countries, between governments and NGOs, and between the culture and security spheres, General Parrulli’s week in Washington sought to accomplish just that.


Andrew Lokay is an intern at the Antiquities Coalition. Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, he is now a student at Stanford University, where he studies International Relations and French. If you are interested in interning at the Antiquities Coalition please send a resume and cover letter to cultureunderthreat@theantiquitiescoalition.org.

Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Director of the Carabinieri Art Squad, Speaks at the Smithsonian

On Wednesday, August 1, 2018, cultural heritage advocates, law enforcement officials, and members of the public streamed into Meyer Auditorium at the Freer Gallery of Art to hear a talk given by Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, director of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Carabinieri TPC). Organized by the Antiquities Coalition and the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, the event welcomed an audience of nearly 200. Safely ensconced in the air-conditioned marble sanctuary of the Freer, audience members took shelter from the Washington humidity and enjoyed a one-and-a-half-hour-long event focusing on threats to cultural heritage and what can be done to address them. As Richard Kurin, acting director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, noted in his opening remarks, the Freer was designed after the model of a Roman villa. A centerpiece of 20th-century efforts to fashion the National Mall as a centerpiece of civilization, the museum was a fitting venue for the General’s speech.

Parrulli began his remarks by introducing the audience to the history of the Carabinieri TPC and the scale of its operations. Founded in 1969, the art squad predates even the 1970 UNESCO convention against cultural racketeering, the landmark treaty which ushered in the current era of cultural heritage protection. With a portfolio that includes fighting looting, investigating thefts and forgeries, and promoting public awareness, the TPC’s officers keep themselves busy. In a half-hour, the General recounted some of his force’s greatest successes and outlined how the TPC is preparing for the challenges of the future.

With colorful maps, impressive statistics, and striking images, Parrulli revealed the extent of the TPC’s work to preserve cultural heritage. Present in every region of Italy, the TPC also has several missions stationed abroad, including at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. And in times of crisis, the General’s team jumps into action, deploying to countries whose heritage is under threat. In recent years, the TPC has deployed to Iraq and Kosovo to support and train local police forces in the safeguarding of cultural property. In his words, the officers of the Carabinieri TPC work to “prevent cultures becoming commodities.” Working closely across borders and partnering with other countries, the TPC is eager to provide global leadership in protecting cultural heritage.

From left: Acting Director of the Freer Gallery of Art Richard Kurin, Antiquities Coalition founder and chairman Deborah Lehr, and Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli discuss threats to cultural heritage after Parrulli’s speech.
From left: Acting Director of the Freer Gallery of Art Richard Kurin, Antiquities Coalition founder and chairman Deborah Lehr, and Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli discuss threats to cultural heritage after Parrulli’s speech.

After the speech, Kurin served as moderator for a discussion with the General and Deborah Lehr, founder and chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. They spoke about the most significant obstacles in the fight against cultural racketeering and the TPC’s active efforts to overcome them. Lehr explained that this field has traditionally been relegated to national ministries of culture, which are often among the weakest government agencies. One of her goals in establishing the Antiquities Coalition was to get foreign affairs and defense ministries involved in addressing this issue, given their greater stature, to advocate for policy change. In Italy, this has been the case since the TPC’s founding in 1969. The Antiquities Coalition seeks to redefine cultural racketeering as a national security issue: after all, it is closely linked to terrorist financing and organized crime. The TPC has done exactly that. During his speech, the General recounted how the Carabinieri has striven to add cultural heritage crimes to the agenda of many of the world’s top forums for international politics: the G7, the Counter-Daesh Finance Group, the United Nations Security Council, and the European Union.

Brigadier General Parrulli at the Smithsonian
General Parrulli discussed several cases of high-profile restitutions made possible by the Carabinieri, including two Roman statue heads stolen during the Second World War and repatriated to Italy just a few months ago.

The Carabinieri’s officers work with objects that are hundreds, even thousands, of years old, but they embrace innovation. The spirit of Silicon Valley is strong in the 17th-century Baroque Palazzo Sant’Ignazio that houses the headquarters of the Carabinieri TPC in Rome. The General highlighted his squad’s use of cutting-edge technology to protect cultural heritage and fight the trafficking of antiquities. In one of the most exciting moments of his speech, Parrulli showed a video of TPC officers using a drone to survey a damaged church. No longer only the playthings of hobbyists and millennial tech geeks, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have become a useful tool in protecting cultural heritage. After earthquakes collapsed historic buildings in central Italy in 2016, the Carabinieri used drones to explore the interiors of ruined buildings deemed too unsafe to enter. In the General’s example, a drone helped the Carabinieri locate a precious altarpiece, which was then removed to safety.

The TPC also maintains “Leonardo,” a massive database of stolen works of art. In seconds, an officer can conduct a search to determine if a suspect object has been previously recorded as stolen. With 1,231,663 entries as of the first week of August, 2018, Leonardo is the largest database of its type in the world. Parrulli also explained that the TPC includes a Data Processing Unit, which leverages the power of smartphones to fight cultural racketeering through its app, iTPC. Free to download and currently available in both Italian and English, iTPC allows users to input a photo of a work of art and search for a match in its database of stolen cultural property. This tool has the potential to be extremely useful for buyers to practice due diligence: when they consider purchasing an item, they can bring up iTPC on their phones as the first step of provenance research. The app also provides the public with information on the Carabinieri and allows for crowd-sourced contributions to the database. Given the TPC’s international focus, Parrulli said that iTPC will soon be available in additional languages, starting with Spanish, French, and German. In her remarks, Lehr described how a lack of data on the illicit trade in antiquities can hamper efforts to convince governments to take action. If few statistics exist for art trafficking, it can be difficult to make the argument that it should be a major concern on policymakers’ agendas. The TPC’s vigorous pursuit of data collection can begin to fill this information vacuum.

The General emphasized that the Carabinieri TPC does more than investigations and rescue operations: he also considers education a key mission of the force. In the question and answer period of the Smithsonian event, he declared that societies today have a responsibility to the next generation to pass on cultural heritage at the heart of community identity. Italy, gifted with a rich history, is leading the charge. Through presentations at local schools and universities across the country, as well as digital initiatives such as the iTPC app, the Carabinieri work to instill in today’s youth the values of respect for culture and commitment to its protection. As the General said, not only do his officers respond to the crises of today, they work to ensure a safer future for humanity’s cultural treasures.

Andrew Lokay is an intern at the Antiquities Coalition. Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, he is now a student at Stanford University, where he studies International Relations and French. If you are interested in interning at the Antiquities Coalition please send a resume and cover letter to cultureunderthreat@theantiquitiescoalition.org.

The Antiquities Coalition Hosts Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage

The General’s Visit Marks a Growing Multilateral Effort to Combat Cultural Racketeering

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington, D.C., July 31, 2018 — The Antiquities Coalition will host Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of the Italian Carabinieri the week of July 30 in Washington, D.C. His visit follows a major bust of an international crime ring by the Carabinieri and other European law enforcement that spanned four countries, targeted dozens of suspected criminals, and lead to the seizure of $47 million in stolen art.

Brigadier General Parrulli heads the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale (“Carabinieri PCT”), the world’s leading law enforcement team fighting the illicit trade in antiquities or cultural racketeering.

The purpose of General Parrulli’s visit is to raise awareness about the illicit trade of ancient art and antiquities, what actions Italy has taken in building partnerships to address this issue, and what remains to be done in the fight against this cultural racketeering.

On August 1, the Smithsonian will host General Parrulli in a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Richard Kurin, Director of the Freer-Sackler Galleries and the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, and joined by Deborah Lehr, founder of the Antiquities Coalition, for a public discussion at the Freer Gallery of Art.

Dr. Kurin will interview Gen. Parrulli and Ms. Lehr about the importance of multilateral coordination in protecting cultural heritage and future objectives in contributing to art market transparency as well as ongoing challenges to curbing the trade in conflict antiquities. The General will also discuss will review the Carabinieri’s work, including his experiences with cultural heritage protection in Baghdad and work with the “Blue Helmets of Culture” in Iraq

On August 2, experts from the diplomatic, policy, governmental, and cultural heritage preservation sectors will convene at a closed-door roundtable discussion hosted by the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute.

The Carabinieri’s recent sting, Operation Demetra, saw simultaneous operations in the Italian regions of Sicily, Calabria, Piedmont, and Apulia, along with houses in London, Barcelona, and Ehningen, Germany. over 25,000 archeological items, worth $47 million were seized. To date, forty-one suspects have been detained.

The Carabinieri TPC spearheaded this international effort carried out with support from authorities in Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, all supported by Europol. Art and antiquities are particularly vulnerable to both money laundering and terrorist financing, and Italy has led the fight against art market exploitation for criminal activities.

About the Antiquities Coalition 

To protect our shared heritage and global security, the Antiquities Coalition is leading the international campaign against cultural racketeering, the illicit trade in ancient art and artifacts. We champion better law and policy, foster diplomatic cooperation, and advance proven solutions with public and private partners worldwide. We are working toward a future when the past is preserved for the next generation, not looted, smuggled, and sold to finance crime, conflict, and terror. Learn more at theantiquitiescoalition.org.

About the Carabinieri TPC

Founded in 1969, and largely regarded as the preeminent leader in combating the destruction of cultural heritage, the Carabinieri TPC works to combat theft, illegal excavations of archaeological sites, and trafficking and counterfeiting of stolen property. To date, the Carabinieri TPC has investigated over 35,000 individuals and detained over 1,000. The organization also maintains a database of paramount importance that stores millions of images and files relating to stolen artifacts. The Carabinieri TPC is also instrumental in providing training for judges, prosecutors, police, customs officials, and experts both in Italy and abroad.

Contact
Emily Benson, Program Associate
The Antiquities Coalition
EBenson@theantiquitiescoalition.org
202-798-5245

Closing U.S. Borders To The Illicit Antiquities Trade: Bilateral Agreements


 

The looting and trafficking of ancient art is a persisting threat to our shared cultural heritage. Nations that have faced conflict and other economic and security crises, in particular, are in immediate danger of their irreplaceable antiquities disappearing into the black market. With a bustling art market worth $26.6 billion, the United States is an attractive end destination for stolen objects. However, there are a number of actions that so-called source countries can take to keep their illicit antiquities off the American market. One powerful option is a bilateral agreement negotiated under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The U.S. implemented the 1970 UNESCO Convention with the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983. This vital legislation allows any State Party to the treaty to request U.S. import restrictions on their undocumented antiquities. Once received, this request is then considered by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), and if approved, is then implemented as a cultural bilateral agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU). Once in place, these agreements must be renewed by the requesting nation every five years, and during the renewal process, amendments to the agreement can be made.

Currently, the U.S. has seventeen bilateral agreements in place to close its borders to the illicit trade, as well as two emergency actions in which Congress passed legislation to restrict the import of undocumented cultural property from Iraq and Syria. This list continues to grow as more and more nations take this critical step to protect their history.

This interactive timeline provides a detailed history of the United States’ cultural bilateral agreements and emergency actions, highlighting the lengthy processes that these nations go through to protect their heritage, and demonstrating how the agreements got to where they stand today.

To learn more visit our page on bilateral cultural agreements.

Combating Illicit Trade in New York: DA Requests Return of Roman Sculpture

Following a string of successful repatriations, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced it is seeking the return of a marble head of Alexander the Great to Italy. The head, valued at around $150,000, depicts Alexander as the sun god Helios. Before entering into the collection of the Museo Forense it was discovered in the Roman Forum’s Basilica Aemilia during a state-sponsored excavation in 1909-1910. A review of the museum’s inventory in 1960 revealed the sculpture was missing, but by that time the head had already disappeared into the mysterious world of antiquities smuggling.

Head of Alexander
Head of Alexander as the sun god Helios. Source: Association for Research into Crimes against Art blog

The head’s journey is a classic case of an antiquity taken from its source country, vanishing without a trace for decades only to reappear later on the market. In 1974 the head resurfaced at a Sotheby’s auction in New York lacking ownership history. It was again put up for auction there in 2011, this time bearing false provenance. The head ultimately ended up at the Safani Gallery in New York, where it was seized in February 2018.

The DA’s petition claims lack of a paper trail is a telltale sign of looting and argues Sotheby’s failed to practice sufficient due diligence both in its 1974 and 2011 sales. Italy’s 1909 patrimony law requires an export license for any object removed from the country and declares that any artifact found on Italian soil is property of the state. Without an official export license the Head of Alexander therefore automatically constitutes a stolen work since it is property of the Italian government.

This case underscores the need for increased transparency in the art market to ensure that patrimony is not plundered. If repatriated, the Head of Alexander will join a number of other antiquities returned to their home countries, including a Greek krater restituted to Italy and a limestone bas-relief ordered back to Iran by a New York judge in late July 2018.

Manhattan DA Moves To Return Looted Persian Masterpiece: Update

he limestone masterpiece will be returned home to Iran. Credit: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
The limestone masterpiece will be returned home to Iran. Credit: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

A Persian bas-relief dating to 500 BCE and valued at $1.2 million will be heading home to the Islamic Republic of Iran after more than eighty years. In July 2018, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of a May 2018 petition filed by the New York District Attorney’s Office, which argued that a purchase without “reasonable inquiry” into an object’s provenance cannot be in good faith. The Persian Guard Relief’s owners seemed to have followed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule of antiquities acquisitions: do not ask questions about an object’s legality if the answer is undesirable. However, the court’s ruling demonstrates ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse in retaining ownership of an object.

Our previous post about the Persian masterpiece discusses its long and troubling history. The ancient relief was first taken from the World Heritage Site of Persepolis in 1935, likely from a frieze depicting a military procession. It is then believed to have traveled to New York before entering the collection of Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1951, only to be stolen again from the museum in 2011. In October 2017, the relief resurfaced at the European Fine Art Fair in New York, where questions about the artifact’s murky past led to its seizure. Hopefully, the relief’s return home will mark its final journey.

Learn more about the efforts of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to combat the illicit antiquities trade through our interactive timeline.