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.

AC’s Efforts to Combat Looting in Egypt Cited in The National News

As the fight against cultural looting persists, developing stronger policy and legislation is one of the Antiquities Coalition’s top priorities. In 2016, the Antiquities Coalition encouraged an agreement between the U.S. and Egypt to protect Egypt’s cultural heritage from trafficking. The agreement was renewed for another five years in December 2021.

In a recent article with The National News, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, Deborah Lehr, highlighted the significance of this agreement:

“When you have the [agreement], it switches the burden of proof. Egypt doesn’t have to prove that the items were looted. The importer has to prove that it’s legitimate,” Lehr says.

This article shines a light on the severity of antiquity looting in countries including Egypt, Yemen, and Iraq, and how these nations are working to return their stolen heritage. It is critical that the narrative around the illicit trade of art and antiquities continues to shift toward a global understanding that looting is a crime with extreme consequences for our shared history, human rights, and global security.

Read the full article here.

The Premiere of Turathi: A New Heritage Platform to Combat Looting in Algeria

In Algeria, the AC Holds Event to Launch New Photo Guide to Preserve Algerian Cultural Heritage

The Antiquities Coalition was honored to join the Algerian Ministry of Culture and Arts and the U.S. Embassy in Algiers on May 9, 2022, for the official launch of Turathi, a photographic guide to help identify Algeria’s stolen cultural heritage. The Antiquities Coalition and the Algerian Ministry of Culture developed Turathi as part of their ongoing partnership to preserve and protect the country’s cultural heritage, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Algiers.

The Photo guide and the database are a work tool, intended primarily for the use of local customs officers, law enforcement, and international partners involved in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property, as an initial step that allows them to identify cultural goods, through a preliminary comparison between their finds and similar artifacts. However, this guide is available to everyone with the aim of engaging and empowering the civil society for the protection of Algeria’s cultural heritage.

Peter Herdrich, Co-Founder of the Antiquities Coalition and Director of the Digitization and Cultural Heritage Preservation Project, spoke at the event to discuss the necessity of collaboration in cultural heritage preservation. 

Herdrich was joined by Soraya Mouloudji, the Algerian Minister of Culture, and Elizabeth Moore Aubin, the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria, who also gave remarks emphasizing how this tool will support the protection and preservation of Algerian cultural heritage. AC in-country Project Manager Abir Chorfa also delivered a speech on the success of the project and next steps.

With over 35,000 stolen objects reported in Algeria, the need for good solutions to fight against cultural racketeering has never been more acute. The Antiquities Coalition remains committed to using tactics like digitization and tools like the photo guide to protect our shared history and global security: although the fight to combat the illegal trade of art and antiquities requires participation from a variety of disciplines.

Governments, law enforcement, cultural experts, libraries, conservators, businesspeople, and more must work together to uncover solutions to safeguard cultural heritage across the world. 

As Deborah Lehr, Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, emphasized during her remarks, “Please have a look at the printed Guide and the website. Get to know these items. And please tell others about them, both professionals and members of the public. The more people know about the importance of protecting the heritage of Algeria and how critical that is, the broader our coalition is.”

The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to its continued collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Arts and the U.S. Embassy in Algiers and how this resource will assist in its mission to fight the illicit trafficking of Algeria’s cultural heritage.


AC Chairman and Founder Featured in ChinaNews

Lehr Urges More Understanding of the Illicit Trade of Art and Antiquities

On May 19th, the China-Europe-America Museums Cooperation Initiative hosted a joint event alongside the Antiquities Coalition and the Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies under CICG. During the virtual discussion, over 30 globally recognized experts shared insights on the role museums play in protecting cultural heritage. 

Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, highlighted the significance role that China, Europe, and America play in the fight against the illicit trade of art and antiquities: 

“Taken together, these three regions make up 77% of the global art market and the overwhelming majority of the world’s museums.” 

Additionally, Lehr called for more understanding of the problem:

“For museums, training in provenance research and authentication, as well as having dedicated museum staff to research acquisitions and object history, can make a significant difference,” Lehr said. “And helping archaeologists, global antiquities dealers, and the purchasing public build capacity in understanding the ‘watch outs’ of the illicit trade can make a difference.”

Read the full article here.

How Can Museums Better Safeguard Our Cultural Heritage?

A Global Dialogue In Honor of International Museum Day

Global events have made attacks on our cultural heritage more prevalent and unrelenting than ever. With the illegal trade and unethical collection of art and artifacts threatening our history, there are steps that can be taken to help mitigate the illicit trade of our cultural heritage. 

The protection of our cultural heritage hinges on how governments, law enforcement, museums, and responsible players in the art market respond to the increased attacks on our shared history. 

Museums, in particular, have an opportunity—and responsibility—to support the legal and ethical collection of ancient art and artifacts, use their platforms to educate the public on the illicit trade, and work with the private sector to protect themselves, global markets, and our shared world heritage from criminals who seek to exploit it for their own gain.

On May 19, the Antiquities Coalition joined the China-Europe-America Global Initiative for a global dialogue exploring the vital responsibility of museums in the fight against cultural racketeering. “The Second Dialogue: Protection of Our Cultural Heritage” featured international leaders in government, the arts, business, and more in discussions about how we can work together to better safeguard our history.

With 31 speakers from 10 countries, this event showcased the dangers of cultural racketeering to our history, human rights, national economies, and global security.

The Antiquities Coalition’s Chairman and Founder, Deborah Lehr, and Executive Director, Tess Davis, spoke at the event on behalf of the AC. Their remarks stressed the critical need for joint international action to send a strong message against the illicit trade in antiquities.

The Antiquities Coalition was proud to cooperate on this event and thanks the China-Europe-America Initiative for its leadership in the fight against antiquities trafficking around the world.

Learn more about the event from the CEA here.

Follow our website for updates on insights from this important event.

NATO SP CoE Emphasizes the Importance of Cultural Property Protection

Under Colonel Giuseppe de Magistris of the Carabinieri, the NATO Stability Policing Centre of Excellence (SP CoE) is leading an alliance-wide effort to incorporate cultural property protection into Stability Policing. Described as a “new model of peacekeeping,” Stability Policing aims to restore the rule of law and protect human rights by reinforcing local and national law enforcement during crisis operations.

The end goal of Stability Policing is to ensure preservation, support impacted communities, cut off criminal and terrorist financing sources, and lay a solid foundation for post-conflict stabilization.

During this unprecedented time of threats facing NATO, cultural property protection is more important than ever because it can reinforce and lay the groundwork for deeper international peace and security efforts. This is particularly important to consider against the backdrop of Russia’s attacks against Ukraine, as we explored in a recent policy brief.

Col. de Magistris and Tess Davis at the roundtable discussionCol. de Magistris recently stressed that NATO SP CoE recognizes the significance of cultural property protection in its efforts to build international peace and security during a closed-door roundtable discussion hosted by The Antiquities Coalition on April 25.

After his remarks, our Executive Director, Tess Davis, led a moderated discussion between experts from the US government, museums, and academia on critical topics raised by Col. de Magistris, such as military and cultural property protection, investigating the looting and trafficking of antiquities, and the NATO SP CoE cultural property network.

The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to its continued partnership with Col. de Magistris and the NATO SP CoE as we work to safeguard the world’s heritage from cultural racketeering.

Think Tank Warns Russia Is Successfully Weaponizing History and Cultural Heritage as Part of Its Information Warfare Campaign

Latest Policy Brief from the Antiquities Coalition Lays Out Roadmap for NATO and Its Allies to Fight Back 

History and cultural heritage have become one of Russia’s most effective weapons in its efforts to target the West.

That is the warning from a newly released policy brief from the Antiquities Coalition’s Think Tank. Daniel Shultz and Christopher Jasparro provide a detailed case study, illustrating how historical propaganda and the exploitation of cultural heritage has become a central component of the Kremlin’s information warfare campaigns, orchestrated from the top by Vladimir Putin himself. Russia has leveraged revisionist histories about Soviet victory in World War II to solidify its identity as a nation besieged, prepare its domestic audience for military conflict, and vilify its opponents as Neo-Nazis deserving of eradication. All the while, the same inflammatory rhetoric is being used to exacerbate tensions with the West by stoking historical grievances, real and perceived, of the Russian people, whether within the country’s borders or around the world.

Given the Kremlin’s willingness to back these false narratives with violence in Ukraine, the authors argue that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should immediately bolster its defensive posture along its eastern flank, while preparing for an increase in information warfare activity.

When compared with Ukraine, “The striking similarity in historical propaganda narratives targeting the Baltic states implies that the threat to the Baltics should now be considered acute,” write Dr. Shultz and Dr. Jasparro. Yet, they add, “NATO and its allies are not sufficiently postured and organized to counter or exploit adversary historical propaganda and cultural heritage exploitation.”

Thankfully, there is much that NATO and its partners can do to respond, if they act now. Shultz and Jasparro, experts in the exploitation of history and cultural heritage for propaganda purposes by state and non-state actors, propose five concrete recommendations that can be implemented in the short, medium, and long term. These include raising awareness and building resilience, institutionalizing the threat, exploiting opportunities, effective counter messaging, and avoiding an over-emphasis on history in geopolitical debate.

The consequences are high, not just for NATO, but also for those who are bearing the brunt of Putin’s invasion. According to Shultz and Jasparro, “In the case of the conduct of the Ukraine war, historical narratives about Ukraine as an anti-Russian, Nazi-led western puppet without its own statehood and culture have been sufficiently seeded within Russia that the risk of attempted cultural (and physical) genocide in Ukraine is very high, if not already underway.”

For a summary and link to the policy brief, click here. 

AC Chairman and Founder Featured on Euronews’ The Exchange

In a new segment of Euronews’ The Exchange, Deborah Lehr spoke on what more can be done to stop criminals from taking part in cultural racketeering:

“We need to see it as a crime, there need to be stiff penalties… because often the money is supporting organized crime. But also, it’s just a crime against humanity.”

The piece, Art and crime – the dark side of the antiquities trade, also featured Corrado Catesi, INTERPOL’s Head of Works of Art Unit, and Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO.

Hear Lehr’s warning:



Watch the full segment:

Following Brexit, will the UK Become a Center of Cultural Racketeering?

Experts Dissect and Discuss Recommendations and Next Steps During Live Panel

Cultural racketeering remains a global issue, despite international attention and efforts to combat this illicit trade which is financing crime, conflict, and terrorism. In Europe, while the EU has sought to address the problem by streamlining import rules and preventing import without proof of legal export from the country of origin, the UK has taken a seemingly opposite approach, quietly revoking the EU Regulation on the Introduction and the Import of Cultural Goods (EU 2019/880) in Great Britain, while adopting it in Northern Ireland. This decision left the UK at risk of becoming a target destination for illicit cultural goods that cannot enter Europe.

On March 1, experts on the art market, law enforcement, and art law joined Think Tank Author Fionnuala Rogers for a lively discussion on her recent Policy Brief which provided recommendations to encourage the UK to balance competing interests, meet its international commitments, and take the role as a leading example for other art market countries in cultural heritage protection.

Key Takeaways included: 

  • Paper Trails Are Worth It: Without overburdening dealers, just a few more questions can make an impact. Requiring more information on import (but less than required by the EU Regulation) such as believed origin, declaration, and provenance, can help law enforcement protect the art market. 
  • The UK has a Unique Opportunity: The UK has a unique opportunity to adopt bespoke practices, which are more targeted and workable than those required by the EU Regulation, under its existing legislation while still meeting the objective.
  • Consultation with Experts is Needed: Moving forward, the UK government should consult with experts from all fields to ensure they create a policy that is practical, effective, and useful to all stakeholders. 

Read the Policy Paper Here

Watch the Recording Here.

Live Expert Panel: Following Brexit, will the UK become a center of cultural racketeering?

Join us March 1, 2022 at 12:00 PM New York / 5:00 PM London for this Free Webinar

Despite international efforts to shine a spotlight on the deliberate destruction and looting of cultural property during conflict and the international community’s commitment to stopping the industrial trafficking believed to be contributing to the financing of terrorist groups such as Daesh, Al Qaeda and others, illicit trafficking continues in plain sight, seamlessly integrating with the legitimate antiquities market. 

While the EU has sought to address this problem by streamlining import rules and preventing import without proof of legal export from the country of origin, the UK has taken a seemingly opposite approach, quietly revoking the EU Regulation on the Introduction and the Import of Cultural Goods (EU 2019/880) in Great Britain, while adopting it in Northern Ireland. 

What was the UK’s reasoning behind the decision to repeal the regulation (and failure to replace it)? Will this repeal create a gateway to Europe for illicit cultural property through Northern Ireland, where the regulation still applies? And, how can the UK take advantage of this unique opportunity to adopt bespoke practices that fight cultural racketeering? 

Join us for a lively discussion of these questions and more with leading experts in the field of cultural property law, trade, and protection. Dialogue to be moderated by Alexander Herman, Director of the Institute of Art and Law.

AC Executive Director Quoted in Grid 360

Grid News explores a 360 View of the World of Stolen Antiquities using lenses including Law Enforcement, Terrorism, Technology, or Culture to explore the history and impact of antiquities trafficking, as well as the current ongoing global reckoning to repatriate stolen treasure.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Tess Davis, the executive director of the Antiquities Coalition, a nonprofit that campaigns against the illegal antiquities trade, told Grid. “I think the pressure [to return objects] will only increase. It seems like every month there are new champions that are stepping forward in this area. It is something that has gone out of archaeological conferences or museum boardrooms and is regularly making the front page.”

Read the article here.