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Conflict Antiquities: Prosecuting Participants in the Illegal Antiquities Trade

June 17, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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