AC’s Helena Arose Amongst FACT Coalition Anti-Money Laundering Experts

The Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition has named Helena Arose, the Antiquities Coalition’s Director of Programs, to their list of anti-money laundering experts. Arose’s work with the Antiquities Coalition has centered around collaborating with key stakeholders to fight the illicit trade of ancient art and antiquities as well as financial crimes facilitated by the global art market. 

For too long, the looting and trafficking of ancient antiquities has been seen as a victimless crime. However, art and antiquities have financed some of the last century’s worst villains—from the Nazis, to the Khmer Rouge, the IRA, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Daesh (ISIS). Far beyond warzones, criminals are also exploiting the art market’s vulnerabilities to commit a wide range of offenses from fraud to forgery, tax evasion, money laundering, and sanctions violations.

The Antiquities Coalition commends the FACT Coalition for including the fight against this illicit trade into their accountability and transparency efforts and looks forward to future joint efforts to combat cultural racketeering.

AC Leads Discussion on International Cooperation for Safeguarding Cultural Heritage Under Threat

Around the world and throughout history, the looting and trafficking of antiquities has flourished when civil society is weakened by conflict, economic crises, natural disasters, climate change, or pandemics. This criminal activity, closely linked to armed conflict and violent extremism, is inflicting grave harm, on both our world heritage and the legitimate market.

At the Antiquities Coalition (AC), we know that to disrupt this illicit trade, preventive actions or solutions require international cooperation.

In partnership with the Cultural Heritage Center in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and the Embassy of Yemen, the AC convened a closed-door roundtable event on international and multilateral tools for safeguarding cultural heritage at risk at the National Museum of American Diplomacy on August 30, 2023. Following a presentation on an example of bilateral cooperation between the United States and the Republic of Yemen, the AC led a moderated discussion among representatives from governments, law enforcement, and the private sector.

A variety of solutions were discussed, including:

  • Bilateral and multilateral agreements
  • Cooperation to secure borders
  • Information sharing and coordination among law enforcement agencies
  • Museum repatriation and loans
  • Technical assistance

Following the conversation, the AC was pleased to attend the signing ceremony for a cultural property agreement between the United States and the Republic of Yemen. Speakers included His Excellency Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen to the United States; Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Lee Satterfield; U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking; and Dr. Zaydoon Zaid, Council of American Overseas Research Centers Senior Advisor for Cultural Heritage.

The AC applauds this agreement and looks forward to future efforts to combat the looting of cultural heritage and will continue to foster international dialogue and collaboration about the illicit trade of art and antiquities.

US and Yemen Sign New Cultural Property Agreement to Combat Looting

On August 30, the United States and Yemen signed a bilateral cultural property agreement, committing both countries to combating the illicit trade of antiquities. This agreement, which builds on the Emergency Import Restrictions that were put in place in February of 2020, was signed by His Excellency Mohammed Al-Hadrami, Ambassador of Yemen to the United States, and the Honorable Ms. Lee Satterfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Antiquities Coalition commends the United States and Yemen for strengthening their diplomatic ties in the fight against the looting and trafficking of ancient art and artifacts.

For over nine years, Yemen has suffered a significant loss of life, devastation of its communities, and destruction of cultural heritage due to ongoing civil war. The new agreement will ensure that undocumented objects from Yemen that may have been illegally obtained or exported will not cross U.S. borders. Reaching this agreement is a critical step to helping the people of Yemen retain and protect their priceless cultural heritage. This agreement also helps the U.S. to protect responsible American collectors, dealers, and museums from unknowingly contributing to the ongoing conflict in Yemen through the purchase of looted artifacts. 

With this signing, the United States now has agreements with six countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Morocco. 

The Antiquities Coalition was honored to be in attendance at the signing ceremony and is a proud partner of both governments in our shared mission to combat cultural racketeering. We look forward to continued progress to safeguard cultural heritage across the globe, particularly during periods of conflict.

AC’s Tess Davis Featured in The Guardian: South-East Asian Countries Demand Denver Museum Return Looted Artifacts

Following investigative reporting from the Denver Post, eyes are turning to the Denver Art Museum (DAM), which has been accused of possessing stolen objects from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.

High-level government representatives from these countries have formally asked the DAM to return eight pieces that were illegally stolen from temples and historic sites. However, representatives say that the museum never responded to their letters. Additionally, the museum still possesses hundreds of pieces acquired from the late Emma Bunker, an art dealer who was named in criminal and civil cases for her role in smuggling artifacts. 

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, called out the museum in a recent article from The Guardian for not verifying the ethical acquisition of their pieces and celebrating Bunker as recently as 2021:

“Why is [Denver Art Museum], a public institution with all the responsibilities and benefits that go along with that, not ensuring the integrity of its own collections? The accusations here don’t involve mistakes made in the colonial era, or, frankly, even the 20th century. These were actions that were taken in 2016, 2018, 2021.” 

Museums in the US are facing increasing scrutiny for collecting looted items, and the Antiquities Coalition looks forward to continued efforts from institutions to ensure that their collections are not just legal, but also ethical. 

Take a look at the full article from The Guardian here. 

AC Director of Programs, Helena Arose, publishes chapter in The Routledge Handbook of Heritage Destruction

Cambodia’s rich material cultural heritage has suffered during periods of war and conflict over the past several decades. However, the greatest destruction to material cultural heritage has not been combat, however, but looting, an activity driven by the extreme market demand for Cambodian artefacts.

On August 10, editors José Antonio González Zarandona, Emma Cunliffe, and Melathi Saldin published The Routledge Handbook of Heritage Destruction, which examines new insights, developing methods, and recent results on the topic of cultural heritage destruction from a wide range of experts. The book joins three other titles in the Routledge Handbooks on Museums, Galleries and Heritage series.

Antiquities Coalition Director of Programs, Helena Arose, joined scholars Angela Chiu and Ben Evans to author a chapter that takes a close look at the demand for Cambodian heritage and provides an overview of the history of its looting and protection, showing that cultural racketeering can cause as much damage to a country’s heritage as outright destruction.

Learn more and order the book here.

The Antiquities Coalition Applauds US Decision to Rejoin UNESCO

Return to the UN Cultural Organization Will Provide a Global Platform for American Leadership

On July 25, First Lady Jill Biden oversaw the raising of the American flag at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), marking Washington’s return to the institution after a five-year absence. 

The Trump Administration had officially withdrawn from UNESCO in 2017, completing a process that started in 2011 when the Obama Administration froze all its financial contributions. By rejoining UNESCO, the United States will again have a seat at the table with the organization’s 193 other Member States, providing an important platform for American leadership at a critical time. UNESCO is the foremost global organization working to combat threats to our world heritage—and the sole agency with a mandate to do so within the UN framework—including the looting and trafficking of art and antiquities and cultural destruction in armed conflict like those now ranging in Ukraine, Sudan, and beyond. 

“As a founding member, the United States has previously been instrumental in working with UNESCO to fight the illicit trade in cultural property, mobilizing the international community to ratify international treaties, push for action at the UN Security Council, and respond on the ground in times of crisis,” said Deborah Lehr, Founder and Chairman of the Antiquities Organization. “As an organization that shares this mission, we commend the Administration for its return. Our revamped relationship with UNESCO will benefit not just our shared heritage, but our country, by again giving us a voice on the world stage.”

The Antiquities Coalition has long urged Washington to engage and participate fully in UNESCO. This week’s return fulfills a key recommendation of the nonprofit organization’s 2016 #CultureUnderThreatTask Force. Its report noted that American absence had reduced the “United States’ ability to drive policy and impact the broader agenda of UNESCO,” and with it the world. 

The Antiquities Coalition congratulates the Administration for reaching such an important foreign policy goal. It also encourages US policymakers to use this opportunity to continue strengthening our great tradition of leadership on cultural issues. As UNESCO continues to tackle contemporary challenges, the United States can play a key role in finding solutions. 

AC’s Deborah Lehr Emphasizes that the Illicit Antiquities Trade is More Than Stolen History in Arab News

The illicit antiquities trade is not a victimless crime. It destroys cultures around the world, global economies, national security, and our shared history. The money gained from these looted antiquities also funds some of the most dangerous actors, furthering harm to vulnerable communities experiencing unrest.

To end cultural racketeering, museums, institutions, and governments must collaborate to fund stronger provenance research units and develop legal ramifications against these acts. Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, emphasized these points in an interview with Arab News.

Lehr detailed how high-profile stories, such as the return of the coffin of Nedjemankh and charges against Jean-Luc Martinez, the former director of the Louvre, have helped to expand the global outlook on stolen antiquities. These cases brought attention to the illicit trade while exposing those in positions of power who turned a blind eye and willingly took part in these crimes.

Lehr also pointed to the Antiquities Coalition’s call for a whole-of-government approach that would help address the negative impacts cultural racketeering can have on national economies and security. This is one of many recommendations that the AC presented to the G20, along with international cooperation, that would help them face this issue more comprehensively.

The article features the Antiquities Coalition’s Ten Most Wanted Antiquities, which aims to find and repatriate some of the most significant looted, stolen, and missing artifacts with help from the public. Specifically, the piece highlights the Lion of Nimrud, looted from the Iraq National Museum, and the Alabaster Stone Inscription, looted from the Temple of Awwam.

Read the full article from Arab News here.

AC Co-Facilitates Training on Preserving and Protecting Heritage in Saudi Arabia

The United States is the world’s largest art market, making up 45% of the global total, placing the U.S. in a unique position to make a difference in the fight against cultural racketeering. However, global players like the Gulf States are quickly growing their roles with the creation of new and prominent museums, a booming art market, and increasing cultural tourism. In particular, the government of Saudi Arabia is well-positioned to become a leader in the global fight against the illicit trafficking of art and artifacts.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, co-facilitated a training that explored how to combat the illicit trade of cultural objects with the Heritage Commission of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Partnering with the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Heritage Commission held the three-day event provided participants with greater knowledge of the issue and solutions against this challenge. The Heritage Commission gathered professionals from within the Commission, as well as the Diriyah Gate Development Company, the Royal Commission for Al-‘Ula, Museums Commission, Public Prosecution, Interpol, the Ministry of Interior, MOFA, and The Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority to participate. This training is one of a series of trainings aimed to build the technical capacity of the Heritage Commission staff, leading to the overall strengthening of the skillset and professional capabilities of KSA’s cultural sector workforce.

The partner program implementing this training, IIE, works to advance scholarship, build economies, and promote access to opportunities through international education. The organization has engaged more than 29,000 program participants in over 180 countries. 

The session was co-facilitated by Dr. Erin L. Thompson, Professor of Fraud, Forensics, Art Law and Crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York. Dr. Thompson is an expert in the intersection of art and crime, encompassing such topics as antiquities theft and trafficking, forgery, and the ethics of digital reproductions of cultural heritage. Her first book,

Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors (Yale, 2016) examines the history of acquisition of Greek and Roman antiquities by private individuals, and her second, Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of American Public Monuments (Norton, 2022) delivers a historical, legal, and political analysis of protests and removal of monuments in the United States from its establishment to the present.

Abir Chorfa, National Director for the Antiquities Coalition projects in Algeria, also joined as a co-facilitator. In her work with the Antiquities Coalition, Ms. Chorfa has overseen the development and implementation of multiple solutions in service of safeguarding heritage and furthering international cooperation and diplomatic efforts.

Davis’ session focused on the impact of cultural diplomacy and international cooperation in mitigating the illicit trade. The training ended with the opportunity to create a roadmap to foster international cooperation, strengthen law and enforcement, engage the community to monitor and protect sites, and identify other key stakeholders to prevent antiquities trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

The Antiquities Coalition thanks the KSA Heritage Commission for hosting these insightful conversations and looks forward to engaging in future collaborations with Saudi Arabia to end cultural racketeering around the world.

Yazda and the Antiquities Coalition Announce the Release of A Groundbreaking Series of 45 Videos Preserving Yazidi Heritage and Culture

Duhok, July 13, 2023: Yazda, a community-led organization dedicated to aiding and empowering survivors of genocide in Iraq and around the world, announced the launch of a captivating video series that showcases the rich and vibrant Yazidi heritage. This comprehensive collection of 45 episodes, meticulously crafted by talented Yazidi filmmakers over the span of two years, is made possible by the generous financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The series aims to preserve the invaluable intangible cultural heritage of the Yazidi community, promoting global awareness and fostering intercultural connections.

To date, Yazda has already released an impressive selection of 10 videos, available for viewing on both their official website and YouTube channel. Moving forward, Yazda will continue to unveil two new episodes every Tuesday and Thursday until all 45 videos have been published, providing audiences with an immersive journey into Yazidi culture.

“Songs, stories, and dances are all integral parts of Yazidi culture. Capturing these practices on video gives the world a glimpse into these unique and intangible cultural practices. USAID is proud of our partnership with Yazda and the Antiquities Coalition to train Yazidis in the art of filmmaking, offering a means to memorialize their heritage and make it globally available.” said USAID Mission Director to Iraq, Elise Jensen

Reflecting on his childhood memories, Ismail Issa, Yazda’s Culture Preservation Project Manager, reminisced, “I can still vividly recall the evenings spent at my grandmother’s house, listening to her captivating stories. Although I struggle to remember all the details, preserving this precious folk treasure stands as an invaluable community service.”

Peter Herdrich, Co-founder of the Antiquities Coalition added: “This is a groundbreaking project, a unique database of videos that captures the Yazidi community’s heritage. The documentation of Yazidi culture allows us to digitally preserve it for future generations.”

To view the compelling video series and embark on a journey through the Cultural Heritage of Minority Communities in Iraq activity, visit Yazda’s official website at or explore their YouTube channel at

“Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Minority Communities in Iraq” activity stands as a collaborative endeavor between Yazda and the Antiquities Coalition, funded by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Historic State Visit Advances US-India Fight Against the Illicit Antiquities Trade

President Biden and Prime Minister Modi Commit to Cultural Property Agreement in Joint White House Statement

Last week’s state visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly highlighted the growing importance of cultural property protection, and specifically combating the illicit antiquities trade, to the India-U.S. bilateral relationship. 

During the four-day tour to Washington, D.C.—which included a high-profile welcome ceremony, state dinner, and congressional address—the Prime Minister and President Joe Biden pledged to strengthen their already close partnership on this issue. Their top priority is finalizing a Cultural Property Agreement (CPA), which would close American markets to looted, stolen, and illegally exported art and artifacts from India. This commitment was enshrined in the Joint Statement between both leaders, issued at the White House on June 22, alongside key defense, trade, and technology goals. 

As an organization dedicated to fighting the illicit trade in ancient art and artifacts, the Antiquities Coalition had a front row seat to this important announcement. Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, attended the White House Welcome Ceremony on June 22, as well as the State Luncheon held on June 23, where she represented the organization among a distinguished and global group of politicians, diplomats, and members of the private sector. 

In addition to the joint statement, PM Modi announced that the United States would return over 100 antiquities to India in his goodbye address:  “I am happy that the American government has decided to return more than 100 Indian antiquities that had been stolen from us. These antiquities may have gotten to the international market in different ways – some legal, some illegal. I express my gratitude to the American government for returning these items.”

The Antiquities Coalition welcomes these strong steps from global leaders, which signify that cultural heritage protection and lawful exchange is a priority for both governments. Moreover, the AC emphasizes that CPAs between the United States and foreign governments are important tools to combat cultural racketeering. Under U.S. and international law, the United States can join these agreements to prevent looted and stolen antiquities and artifacts from entering the American art market, fighting the illicit trade while allowing the legal trade to continue and even thrive. They also aim to lessen global demand for illicit objects—especially since the U.S. makes up some 45% of the global art market—while increasing responsible cultural exchange.  

Read the full statement here

Learn more about Cultural Property Agreements here.

South China Morning Post Highlights AC’s Tess Davis for Work Recovering Cambodian Antiquities

The Kingdom of Cambodia is home to a rich cultural heritage, but decades of past unrest left this history vulnerable to criminals and destruction. 

One of the most notable smugglers of Cambodia’s history was Douglas Latchford, who exploited the nation’s vulnerability during its long war with the Khmer Rouge. From the 1970s forward, Latchford looted countless masterpieces, using a complex network of shell companies and offshore accounts both to launder the artifacts themselves and his proceeds from them. Latchford died in 2020 fighting extradition from Thailand to the United States, where he was facing multiple felony charges for his role in plundering Cambodia’s past. 

However, thankfully Latchford’s death did not stop efforts to secure justice, a mission in which Cambodia, in partnership with Federal authorities from the United States, has had much success. In recent years, repatriations of Latchford loot have constituted some of the biggest stolen art recoveries since after the Second World War, as well as the largest ever forfeiture of criminal proceeds from the sale of illicit antiquities. 

The quest to take down Latchford was a long one. In a recent piece, the South China Morning Post highlighted the part played by Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition.

Davis, who some have dubbed “Indiana Jane” for her work preserving cultural heritage, worked on the Latchford case from the very beginning, alongside colleagues from Cambodia and around the world. To learn more about her efforts and story, read the full article here.

AC and the Syriac Heritage Museum Launch New Website to Preserve Heritage

Digitization is critical to protecting and preserving our shared history. Technology is making it easier than ever for communities to document their rich heritage and make it easily accessible worldwide.

On May 9 at a ceremony held in Erbil, Iraq, the Antiquities Coalition (AC) and its partners at the Syriac Heritage Museum were proud to announce the launch of a new website. The website is one result of a two-year digitization and documentation project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

At the heart of the SHM website is the digital database of the Museum’s collection, an exhibition created by the project’s digitization team in Erbil. The website is one of the few in the world that can be viewed in the four languages of Kurdish, Arabic, English, and Suret. It documents the cultural and artistic heritage of Chaldean–Syriac–Assyrian people for researchers, scholars, and the public to view online, and it will help to archive the museum’s collection and attract new visitors.

The event was attended by government officials and members of the community, including Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Najeeb Michael and U.S. Deputy Consul General Zehra Bell, who both spoke on the importance of this new resource. 

The AC works on projects across the Middle East and North Africa, and recently hosted a free, online Arabic-language training on digitization, documentation, and preservation strategies for museums that attracted over 1,400 registrants.

As technology continues to play a significant role in maintaining and sharing cultural heritage, the AC looks forward to partnering with like-minded organizations, government agencies, and more to safeguard our shared history.

Explore the website here.