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United States And Libya Strengthen Joint Fight Against Cultural Racketeering And Terrorist Financing

February 23, 2018

United States and Libya Sign MOU Shutting U.S. Borders to Illicit Trade In Libyan Antiquities, Which Is Funding Daesh (ISIS) and Other Violent Extremist Organizations

Washington, DC (February 23, 2018) — The Antiquities Coalition commends the United States and Libya’s unity government for taking a major step to increase diplomatic ties and counterterrorism cooperation.

Today in the State Department’s Treaty Room, both countries signed a bilateral agreement to stop the black market trade in “blood antiquities” and other stolen art, which is financing Daesh (ISIS), armed insurgents, and organized criminals throughout North Africa and the Middle East. This memorandum of understanding (MOU) restricts the U.S. import of Libyan archaeological and ethnological material, while increasing responsible cultural exchange between the two countries. It reinforces emergency import restrictions put in place by the State Department in December 2017.

“Today’s agreement demonstrates the U.S. commitment to helping secure Libya’s future, in this case by protecting its rich past,” said Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition. “It also sends a strong message to Daesh: culture does not divide us, it unites us.”

This is only the second such MOU between Washington and an Arab state, following Egypt, which signed a similar agreement in November 2016 after three years of negotiations. Libya’s request was negotiated in as many months, demonstrating the seriousness with which both governments are treating the terrorist financing risk from cultural racketeering. It was signed on behalf of the United States by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, I. Steven Goldstein, and on behalf of Libya by Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Lufti Almughrabi.

Due to Libya’s location on the crossroads of so many civilizations, the country is home to a significant cultural patrimony, such as the archaeological sites of Cyrene, Leptis Magna, and Sabratha. However, since the 2011 Civil War, this rich history has fallen victim to thieves and traffickers who are seeking to feed the world’s billion dollar demand for ancient art. For example, in June of 2017, the Libyan National Army seized artifacts from the Benghazi museum storeroom in a Daesh stronghold. Libyan forces were able to quickly make an arrest, just days later, of a Daesh-connected suspect involved in the trafficking of these artifacts.

The Italian government has also confirmed crime syndicates have been trading arms for antiquities with Libyan terrorists groups, raising fears that cultural racketeering could help to prolong the armed conflict in North Africa, while fueling organized crime in Europe.

With today’s agreement, the United States now has cultural memoranda of understanding with 17 countries, and has imposed emergency actions with similar terms for Iraq and Syria. These MOUs are a proven tool in discouraging the illicit trade in antiquities and benefit all parties, and we at the Antiquities Coalition have long advocated for their signings. The restriction of imports of illicit cultural goods to the United States significantly constrains the global black market, given the U.S. position as a leading market for art and antiquities. From the U.S. perspective, MOUs also serve the U.S. interest in decreasing international criminal activity, while strengthening relationships with its allies.

About the Antiquities Coalition 
The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organizations. This plunder for profit funds crime and conflict around the world—erasing our past and threatening our future. The Coalition’s innovative and practical solutions tackle crimes against heritage head on, empowering communities and countries in crisis. Learn more at Follow us on Twitter @CombatLooting.

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