Joanna van der Lande has worked in the art and auction business for over 30 years. Having read Ancient History and Archaeology at Birmingham University in the 1980s she set up the Antiquities Department at Bonhams Auction house, London in 1990. She served on the UK Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade (ITAP) from 2000 until it was disbanded in 2006. It was ITAP who advised the UK Government to accede to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. She is current Chair of the UK based Antiquities Dealers’ Association. She advised the UK Government on aspects of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017. She regularly chairs vetting committees at London based art fairs. She is an independent consultant providing valuations and advising on authenticity, provenance and political issues affecting the antiquities market, while also acting as a valuer to the Treasure Valuation Committee, the Government body responsible for establishing the value for UK treasure finds.
This article presents the perspective of a professional within the antiquities trade on the evolution of the market since 1989. It is based on an article that will be published by UNIDROIT later in 2021.
This is Part 2 of a three-part article and contains the following sections:
- Archives – Medici, Becchina and Symes
- Changing practices
- Fighting illicit activity
- The CircArt Project
- “Millions” and “Billions” and supposed terrorist financing
- Is art crime second only to drugs and weapons?
- International seizures
- The Internet
- Part 1 : definitions, academic relations, orphan antiquities, the 2000 date, and source country export licenses
- Part 3 : the law, European Union and U.S. developments, art fair seizures, legal trade, orphans and fair compensation, and the way forward.
Archives – Medici, Becchina and Symeskem
For many years now, a considerable bone of contention between the art trade, archaeologists, and law enforcement has been lack of access to photographic and documentary archives known as the “Medici” and “Becchina” archives, which relate to seizures from old-school, some would say notorious, antiquities dealers Giacomo Medici (1995) and Gianfranco Becchina (2001). These two traders supplied many antiquities to Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides. When Michaelides died suddenly in 1999, Symes became embroiled in a legal dispute with his late partner’s family which ended up with the confiscation of photograph and documentary archives in 2006. Symes and Michaelides were also prolific buyers at public auction. Dr Christos Tsirogiannis was allowed to assess all these archives by the Italian and Greek Governments, and while the legal cases have long since come to a close, he retains unofficial access to these archives which are not publicly available to the trade or the Art Loss Register.
The Italian Carabinieri has been ordered by the courts not to use the Medici archive any more. Inevitably, antiquities once in the hands of Medici and Becchina turn up on the market with reasonable frequency and Tsirogiannis, whose stated ambition is “to contribute in any form to discourage commercialisation of archaeological material”, maximises embarrassment by making any matches public and regularly attempts to shame the auction houses and dealers, with museums not being immune to similar treatment. Yet the trade does not have direct access to these archives in order to carry out the sort of provenance checks that Dr Tsirogiannis demands they should. His proffered solution of submitting everything to him for approval is neither practical – especially as he is forbidden from profiting from his access to the archives – nor realistic bearing in mind his avowed anti-trade stance. It also raises ethical questions over him setting himself up as an unsanctioned quasi-authority to police the market.
It is a very wearing situation with no apparent resolution. With Italian Statutes of Limitation having expired and the antiquities themselves having often changed hands multiple times in the past 30-40 years, more often than not at public auction with all that implies, there is no clear-cut answer. Christie’s have even “sent individual queries to the Carabinieri but they have not responded”.
These objects are legally on the market but the morality of their continued circulation is called into question and the owner often shamed into returning their objects to Italy or they quietly take them home knowing them to be unsaleable – even where no evidence has been forthcoming to show they were illicitly come by. Meanwhile owners who have returned objects have lost often considerable amounts of money without any compensation. I have known situations where items removed from auction have remained in auction and police warehouses with nobody claiming them – stuck in limbo, too expensive and problematic to ship back home and without a formal request from the Italians for their return. Dr Tsirogiannis insists that without a provable pre-1970 provenance the auction houses are behaving irresponsibly and yet he fails to acknowledge the fact that 1970 is not a legally binding date and has never been required to be implemented as such into the national law of most market countries. For reasons previously explained in this article, documentation back to 1970 is rarely available.
There is incentive enough in the trade to find a solution, but it remains to be seen whether Dr Tsirogiannis and his colleagues, as well as the Italian and Greek authorities, are interested in finding a fair-minded and workable solution. With such antipathy towards the antiquities market this seems unlikely. In March 2020, Tsirogiannis was invited by the Dutch police to vet photographs of antiquities exhibited at Tefaf Maastricht, the world’s largest and most important art and antiques fair; consequently, some antiquities were seized, with their cases silently dropped after eight months and the items returned to the dealers concerned. When interviewed after the event,
Dr Tsirogiannis was asked what should happen to the antiquities if they were not repatriated. He responded that he “would very much like the art galleries to be more open about the true ‘history’ of their ancient artefacts” and went on to say that dealers should “share honest and transparent information, which means both the geographical provenience and the legal provenance of the objects”.
If the trade were able to get to a situation where all provenance information could be printed, it would be wonderful progress. The trouble is that by doing so Dr Tsirogiannis then publicly names and shames the legal owner or auction house. Further in the interview he says that in any event he will write an article about these objects and “this will be more than enough to make the objects valueless to the antiquities market and to urge the market to act more ethically and law-abiding in the future”. I do wonder how the trade could possibly work in any meaningful way towards a solution in the face of this ethically questionable behaviour.
As Prof Raimund Karl puts it, “From a legal point of view, however, it does not matter at all whether this is bitter for cultural property protectors and whether they consider it unjust: applicable law is applicable law, regardless of whether or not someone who is subject to the norms likes it.” (English Translation)
What seems paradoxical is that while the art market is often accused of lacking transparency, originally it was transparent. Around the time the UNESCO Convention came into being, buyers’ names were still publicly listed in auction catalogues, a practice which stopped in the mid 1970s. These old lists are now valuable because they can help piece together the ownership history of an object. Publishing such information, particularly in our digital age, would be considered unwise, particularly for reasons of security. While this information is not publicly available, law enforcement has always been able to obtain it. Going back even further, to the nine-day sale of the collection of the Rev William MacGregor in 1922, more detailed information about where some of the artefacts were originally found was published in the lot descriptions.
The trouble is, when detailed information is printed in the catalogue, or even highlighted in a museum exhibition, foreign governments then often demand proof of original export. A story broke in January 2019 concerning The National Museum of Scotland which became embroiled in a row with the Egyptian authorities over whether it had permission to exhibit a casing stone from an Egyptian pyramid which it had acquired in 1872 and which the Museum announced it would put on display, for the first time, as the centrepiece of an exhibition on ancient Egypt in Edinburgh.
We want the trade to be transparent, but if objects with provenances dating back to 1872 are not safe from restitution claims, it makes it very difficult to see a way forward. Very few objects have a demonstrable provenance dating back to 1972 let alone to 1872. Vexatious claims are commonplace. Often the Egyptian authorities, or those of other countries, will claim an item at auction is stolen but will provide no evidence to demonstrate this. When asked for it, their response is usually along the lines, “It is not up to us to show that it is stolen; it is up to you to show that it is not.”
Ultimately, we want an art market which is transparent about the known provenance, not one where people fear being ‘shamed’ in the media if the provenance falls short of the expectations of trade critics but not the law. With the art fairs, auction houses, the internet and social media, the market has never been more open to scrutiny and this has made the trade far more vulnerable to vexatious claims.
It takes a long time for long-standing practices to change and the art market is no different from governments and wider society. Closing down a trade that existed from time immemorial did not mean it stopped immediately in Egypt, Cyprus, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon and elsewhere. I can’t think of too many laws where there has been 100% compliance from the outset. International Conventions show how long it can take to persuade the international community to react. The UK, for example, only acceded to the UNESCO Convention in 2002, 30 years after the Convention came into force. The most recent countries to ratify the Convention only did so in 2019. So if numerous governments have taken decades to sign up to a Convention, if at all, it should come as no surprise that businesses have taken their time to evolve their practices. The UNIDROIT Convention has met with similar obstacles.
A law in and of itself is a somewhat blunt instrument; it imposes changes which generally mean personal liberties are curtailed. Rules that balance incentive with deterrence tend to be more effective. People generally have an innate sense of fairness, but however balanced a system, there will never be 100% compliance, which reflects the realities of human nature.
Archaeological items differ from other objects in the art market in one crucial respect: they were once buried. The ownership of archaeological items is often vested in the State itself, which is unlikely to know the circumstances of discovery or even export. In the UK we have a system which enables finders of archaeological items to sell many categories of finds with a detailed recording of each object made possible by a government-funded digital database, which launched a pilot scheme in 1997.
The UK Treasure Act is well supported and generally accepted to be fair. There is a high level of compliance and the archaeological and historical record has been greatly enriched in recent decades with finders fairly rewarded. I know the system intimately because I am one of the valuers appointed by the Treasure Valuation Committee to provide them with advice. Inevitably there are people who feel it isn’t fair or who do not abide by the rules, but they are in a small minority. The head of Portable Antiquities & Treasure at the British Museum says of the Portable Antiquities Scheme; “…The uniqueness of the PAS is that its data is generated through the discoveries of ordinary people – not professional archaeologists – meaning that the public is transforming our knowledge of the past.”
The level of animosity towards metal detectorists until late into the 1980s and into the 1990s was significant and there were valid reasons for it, so the achievements of the PAS have been remarkable. It required an understanding of human psychology and some lateral thinking to create a different and constructive environment. As with all relationships, it requires continual work and commitment to the future. After a period of consultation the UK Government recently announced an expansion to the definition of treasure.
Fighting illicit activity
In the course of my career, both working for dealers and auction houses, I have seen significant changes in how the antiquities market operates as well as the introduction of new laws. Over the years I’ve seen increased government, academic and media scrutiny into the illicit antiquities trade.
Illicit cultural goods are toxic for the legitimate trade; our reputation – which is everything in this business – is easily tarnished. It is in our interest more than most to prevent looted antiquities surfacing on the market. This is why art trade associations have codes of ethics. I chair a trade association, the Antiquities Dealers’ Association (ADA), which established a Code of Conduct when it was founded in 1982. We have updated the Code of Conduct in recent years to reflect the changing legal and ethical landscape. However, the antiquities market can understand why we are viewed harshly; we also read the headlines.
For many years, if not decades, the legitimate antiquities market has played its part in fighting illicit activity. In 2000 The Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee conducted a series of interviews in the House of Commons looking into the question of Cultural Property and the Illicit trade.
Many members of the art trade, including the antiquities trade, were called as witnesses to the Select Committee hearing and out of it was borne the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel which was established in May 2000, chaired by the late Professor Norman Palmer. The eight members of the Committee were drawn from the museum, academic and art world, of which I was one. Together we reached a consensus and advised the UK Government to accede to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, then drafted the wording for what became the Dealing in Cultural Property (Offences) Act 2003. It demonstrated that if expertly steered, all sides can work together for a common good, but it requires compromise on both sides and adjustment of long-held views.
The events surrounding the Arab Spring and the subsequent increase of looting and destruction, followed by the iconoclastic actions of Daesh, put the antiquities market in the spotlight as never before. The situation undoubtedly provided a useful opportunity for some to conflate two issues: lack of documentary provenance with recent looting.
While living abroad for a short time, which coincided with the early years of the Syrian civil war, I received a phone call from The Times reporting on looting in Syria. I was deeply concerned about the destruction of Syrian heritage and the lives of the Syrian people, with people I knew personally affected. It dawned on me the antiquities trade could become part of the collateral
damage with the trade somehow being linked to the looting and destruction as it had been in Iraq two decades previously. My fears were well founded. A lot had been learnt from the fallout of the Gulf War in 1990-1991 and we did not want to unwittingly handle looted antiquities. The trade has changed dramatically since the 1990s. However, with the advent of technology it has created buyers and sellers outside the traditional art and antiques market who do not consider themselves to be art or antiques dealers. This is proving a challenge for us all.
When I returned to the UK late in 2013, the ADA overhauled the website and Code of Conduct to tighten up practices to try and future-proof the trade to prevent us being tainted by looted antiquities. We sought legal advice and also brought it to the attention of members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Cultural Heritage before publishing it on our website. The trade played an active role both in attending meetings of the APPG and in having discussions with MPs and civil servants concerning the practical implications of the implementation of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act. We met with the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to create guidance for the trade.
The CircArt Project
During this period and as part of the UK’s commitment to protect Cultural Heritage, £40 million was made available to set up the Cultural Protection Fund, with the British Council administering the Fund and allocating the money to projects to support cultural heritage at risk.
One of the projects applying to the fund was set up by an energetic Egyptologist at the British Museum who was anxious to collaborate with the trade to set up an open database of Egyptian antiquities. It would document the vast bulk of circulating artefacts recorded since 1800 but prioritise the entry of objects that had newly (re-)appeared on the market, with the trade contributing photos and data. We were told trade collaboration was essential for the project to receive funding and both the UK and international trade associations put considerable effort into making sure the project received wider trade support. For the trade’s part, we wanted to be part of the project but insisted on a clear protocol so both parties could work within a set of pre-agreed rules of engagement so as not to unintentionally taint an object or owner. The whole project was not without risk for those submitting data, particularly in light of regular demands for the return of Egyptian antiquities. This had become a routine occurrence with letters and emails received from Egyptian officials by auction houses and dealers, prior to sales, stating everything was stolen.
Part of the reason the trade was keen to collaborate was because the Egyptian Government would be Project Partners. We were, perhaps naively, keen to foster better relations and understanding with the Egyptian Antiquities Service in order to prevent unnecessary claims which were causing difficulties and misunderstandings all round. It was discussed that those who registered could have access to the database, which would make it possible to check the status of Egyptian antiquities circulating on the market. From the trade’s point of view, we saw the benefit of allowing objects to remain on a public database. It followed that without any claim being made for their return, it would then make it harder to challenge their legitimacy on the market. We felt this solution would bring more transparency to the market.
Up to the point of the successful funding application in December 2017, the trade was full of hope that finally we could find a way of moving forward and improving relations in what had become a fraught part of the antiquities market. However, our excitement was short-lived, with the British Museum caught in the middle and the Egyptians not willing to work on a project in which the trade was publicly mentioned, let alone directly involved. The result was the database had to be closed with no access to registered users. The CircArt Project was officially launched in February 2020 with a Registration page that provides little protection for the good faith owner. With no agreed protocols in place, dealers and collectors are afforded little protection, particularly when so much emphasis is placed on suspicious objects and law enforcement. The Trade remains hopeful of finding a way of reaching an agreement and continues to work to this end, but we would be irresponsible if we proceeded without first agreeing the terms on which to do so.
[Ed. It has now been confirmed on the British Museum website that the CircArt Project was completed in February 2021. Funding of £998,769 was awarded to the Project in January 2018, with further funding of £689,282 awarded in 2020 with the Circ Art Project announced in a press release in March 2020. It is not clear whether the completion of the Project means the curtailment of the expansion of the Project’s outreach and sharing skills as outlined by The British Council who funded the Project. This will be the subject of a forthcoming article.]
Diplomatic ripples were caused when Christie’s sold a quartzite head of Tutankhamun for £4.75 million in London in July 2019. Certainly source countries are under pressure from their own citizens who cannot understand how people in other countries can buy their culture while they cannot. Cross-cultural misunderstanding is an often-ignored key factor in the ongoing antiquities debate. The political pressure these sales cause domestically should not be underestimated, and yet one wonders how aware are the Turkish, Iranian and Egyptian people of the previously thriving trade in antiquities in their countries? In these archaeologically rich countries chance finds are often made during agricultural and building activities and, if reported, sanctions are often imposed on the finder, thereby discouraging the reporting of any finds; yet they see their culture openly being sold abroad. This must cause a great deal of anger and we can sympathise with the political repercussions this causes, but only to an extent because it is simply not possible to turn back the clock as if the last centuries never happened.
When I attended a meeting with Egyptian officials in December 2019, shortly after the sale of the head of Tutankhamun, they were clearly also unhappy about the sale of the Old Kingdom statue of Sekhemka which sold at Christie’s in July 2014 for £15.8 million (including premium). Somehow the blame had been placed squarely on the shoulders of the trade and for years it had caused difficulties with some Egyptologists who also blamed the trade, and the sale had clearly caused diplomatic difficulties. Having been involved with the original insurance valuation of Sekhemka, I was able to explain exactly how the trade had come to be involved in the process and how the trade had worked behind the scenes, but ultimately failed, to devise a plan for the statue to remain in the public domain. When told the true story, members of the Egyptian delegation were clearly surprised. There is generally an imbalanced view of the trade portrayed in the wider media which has contributed to damaging relations with the trade.
“Millions” and “Billions” and supposed terrorist financing
Setting the art market in its wider context is important, particularly when applying the principle of proportionality. This principle regulates the exercise of powers by the European Union and also applies in wider international law.
Over the years a great deal of time and usually public money has been spent on assessing the scope and scale of the illicit trade in cultural property, and while one could argue about the details, the available data tells us the problem is not as big as is so often reported. The RAND Corporation, an independent American non-profit global policy think tank, recently published a report in which they state:
“Our evidence implies that the size and structure of the illicit market is at odds with the conventional wisdom espoused by some journalists and researchers. Commonly quoted estimates of the size of the illicit market range from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, while news stories frame antiquities trafficking as the domain of well-organized criminal networks. In contrast to these assertions, our research points to a market that looks smaller and is less organized.”
They go on to say that:
“While analyses of looting and the supply side of the antiquities market have documented extensive looting in the Middle East and North Africa…, our analyses of the major sales channels in Europe and the Americas has not identified evidence that a sufficiently robust international market exists to market and sell these goods…….our aggregate data suggest that the market for all antiquities, both licit and illicit, is in order of, at most, a few hundred million dollars annually rather than the billions of dollars claimed in some other estimates.”
Their figures are broadly in line with those of other studies conducted by the European Commission. As with the Deloitte report that preceded it, the Ecorys report was commissioned as part of the European Commission’s study to establish whether it was necessary to introduce new EU import licensing regulations. The report came up with no reliable statistics for trafficking or terrorism funding, which had been one of its key objectives. The authors based their study on “snapshot analyses of the online sales in antiquities and ancient and medieval coins. It was impossible to distinguish licit from illicit transactions…” and it goes on to say that “Based on the snapshot analysis, European vendors sell in the region of 140.000 to 700.000 antiquities from Europe, North Africa and West Asia annually, with a total monetary value of €64 million to €318 million.” It adds that while uncertain, they nevertheless provide “a firmer evidential base than anything else that has previously been published. They are not altogether contradictory to the €200 million figure for global trade in antiquities (excluding the Internet) proposed by the IADAA in 2013.”
It therefore cannot be true that illicit trade is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, let alone billions of dollars.
Both the Deloitte and Ecorys reports were publicly funded, the latter authored by partisan academics, one of whom, Dr Donna Yates, stated in an interview with The Herald Scotland in 2016, that she would like:
“…to see the collecting of antiquities become socially unacceptable, ‘like having a gigantic elephant tusk on your mantle. I want somebody who has, say, Iraqi figurines on their mantle – I want all their fancy dinner-guests to go …” and here she mimics a sharp, disapproving intake of breath. Yes, she concedes, such a collective attitude would require a huge cultural shift. ‘It will, but I think we’re moving in that direction. At least, I hope we are.’”
Meanwhile another survey project “ILLICID”, with €1.2 million of German Government funding, was initiated in 2015 and organized by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology (SIT), Darmstadt, and GESIS – Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences, Mannheim. The project was also supported by UNESCO, which described it as a “transdisciplinary research project with a specific focus on illicit trafficking in Cultural Property from Iraq and Syria”. The Press release at the launch of ILLICID on the 10 April 2015 provides the motivation for the project:
“Profits from illegal trade in cultural goods are an important pillar of organized crime. There are links to the drug and arms trade, to money laundering and terrorist financing. At present, there is neither reliable data on the annual scope of the illegal trade in cultural goods in Germany nor efficient methods for collecting the corresponding facts. (English Translation).”
This was a disingenuous briefing which demonstrated the researchers had predetermined the report’s outcome. As they stated, they had neither reliable data nor efficient methods for collecting it, yet had already concluded that profits from illegal trade were an “important pillar” of organized crime. How could they have known this prior to looking at the facts, particularly when it acknowledges there is no reliable data?
The project overran but a short report with the final findings was published in April 2019 to a mixed response. IADAA conducted analysis of whether ILLICID was successful in meeting its goals, one of which was to gather data on the magnitude of illicit trade and terrorist financing.
IADAA reported on their findings stating that;
“Certainly it has gathered data, although its own figures show that potentially relevant objects were a tiny fraction (1.7%) of the material it assessed. The report concluded that only a quarter of the potentially relevant objects could safely be deemed authentic and much of the rest lacked the information to judge definitively. What is not clear is how original and ground-breaking its methodology has been – it does not seem that different from other studies. What is clear is that it has established no terrorist findings at all or been able to gauge the magnitude of illicit trade at all, and nor does it claim to have done so.”
A 50-page report with policy recommendations based on the 9-page report findings was published in December 2019. It appears to reset the report’s initial objectives of seeking hard evidence (perhaps because it had failed to do so), instead concluding:
“Overall, the findings of the social science sub-project demonstrated that surveying stakeholders is a good tool for obtaining an impression of which topics, questions and challenges are significant in an opaque zone such as the trade in ancient cultural objects. However, this tool is not suitable for drawing concrete conclusions about the market as a whole.”
Unfortunately for the German art market, including museums and private collectors, the restrictive German Cultural Property Law had already been enacted in 2017, without waiting to establish if there was evidence on which to base this policy. Many of the principles of the new German Cultural Property Law found their way into the thinking of the EU Import regulations which are amply discussed in analysis conducted by Cultural Property News, which is sponsored by the Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP), a US non-profit organization established to strengthen the public dialogue on arts policy. This was always the intention, having heard Dr Markus Hilgert, who led the ILLICID project, say as much at the Culture in Crisis Conference which took place at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, in April 2015, and as was stated at a more recent conference ‘Culture at Risk: International Symposium on Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Goods’, 31 March, 2017 at the Medelhavsmuseet in Stockholm, Sweden, at which he declared that “If Germany alone is doing it then what good is it doing for the European Union? Obviously we need something similar, something corresponding on the European market.”
Germany was successful in influencing the introduction of the EU Import Regulations, but one has to assume that once the EU Import Regulations come into force, Germany cannot continue with a two-tier system within the EU where importers from other EU Member States would potentially be prohibited from importing cultural property into Germany. Under those circumstances it would appear to arbitrarily discriminate and restrict trade between Member States when they would be abiding by the same import rules. What is most worrying about the German law is that it does not allow for the fact that export licences from source countries seldom exist and it reverses the burden of proof for any antiquities being imported into Germany with a post-2007 provenance, when proof of legal export must be provided from the source country – with the assumption it has been illegally exported without the existence of such documentation.
Dr Hilgert also made a statement at the Stockholm conference that “Collectors are not bad people per se. Collectors sometimes think they protect cultural heritage when they buy cultural heritage in the market…but of course they’re wrong because for what they are buying in the market other things have been destroyed and people have been exploited….”. This is to suggest the market only sells recently looted artefacts rather than accepting the market has within it a long-standing and thriving legitimate trade. While there is a real need for education, I fear the message will be one of “don’t collect”, along the lines of Donna Yates, rather than one of “do collect but only responsibly and from ethical dealers who are members of reputable trade associations”.
One of the most grotesque and unfounded accusations levelled against the trade in recent years has been that we are funding terrorist activity. The term “Blood Antiquities” has been emotively used along with scores of headlines and research papers telling their readers the illicit antiquities trade is funding terrorists to the tune of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. In fact these figures have been discredited by an increasing number of people including the RAND report. There is minimal evidence of any terrorist funding from the sale of antiquities, a fact confirmed in both the Deloitte and Ecorys reports. Both the RAND and Ecorys reports point to what appears to be a stratagem to encourage misleading headlines.
The RAND report states:
“In the absence of grounded data, journalists, researchers, and policy experts regularly inflate the importance of antiquities trafficking in funding for international terrorism and organized crime. Linking cultural property crimes to these high-profile law enforcement issues offers a means to bring funding and political attention to what has traditionally been an under recognized issue. However, the facts and figures used to support these arguments are often misinterpreted or overstated.”
While the Ecorys report states that
“the interviewees agree that, all in all, the connection between the issue of trafficking in cultural goods and terrorism financing may have been exaggerated, but is beneficial. Illicit trade in cultural goods is now viewed as an issue of national and international security, which means it has moved up the ladder of political priorities.”
Manipulating the facts for political ends is hardly new, but basing new laws on spurious claims undermines our faith in political processes and institutions and by overregulating businesses, it damages reputations and livelihoods; while the lack of transparency and frequent use of public funds to pursue such activity is morally questionable. It is also irresponsible, a US dealer was quoted as saying that when we’re told “these antiquities are worth millions of dollars, I think that prompts people to pick up shovels in eastern Syria. Are we not adding to the problem right now, by hyperbolic assessments of value?”
While any funding streams to terrorists need to be shut-off, responses to the problem must be proportionate and not influenced by untruths; this is why accurate data matters.
Is art crime second only to drugs and weapons?
It is often said the illicit antiquities market is second only to the illicit trade in drugs and weapons. Again, this is simply not true. An analysis of the recently published 2019 World Customs Organisation Report was conducted by Ivan Macquisten on behalf of IADAA. The 2019 WCO Report is the fifth annual report to assess Cultural Heritage as an independent risk category and
shows that Cultural Heritage accounts for 0.2% of global illicit trade in terms of seizures reported through the Customs Enforcement Network. This is the smallest category listed and by a very significant margin, to the extent that any under-reporting would not come close to bridging the gap between Cultural Heritage and any other category in any of the four main measures used to assess this problem: number of seizures/arrests, number of investigations, volume of seized material and value of seized material. It is important to appreciate that archaeological items form a tiny fraction of what the report defines as Cultural Heritage, a sector which also includes flora and fauna, works of art and household goods.
Despite an additional 14 countries reporting Cultural Heritage cases in 2019 compared with 2018, the number of cases fell 12.7% from 260 to 227. But all Cultural Heritage statistics pale into insignificance when compared with other risk categories reported, for example 36,264 for drugs and over 28,000 for counterfeit goods.
Although the WCO Report only measures seizures reported through the Customs Enforcement Network, the report itself does include highlights reported through other means, like national police networks, to show what the bigger picture looks like. Taking these into account, Cultural Heritage crime remains negligible when compared with other categories, with the 2019 highlights selected for inclusion in the Report including; “seven coins and three spoons”; “20 coins”; “a woolly mammoth tusk”; “49 porcelain figurines”; “13 copper coins”; “ten silver coins” and “three gold coins” (total weight 16 grammes).
It is also clear from the maps and data in the WCO report that Western Europe is not a trafficking hotspot for Cultural Heritage. Globally Russia accounted for 58.6% of all reported cases. This is for all Cultural Heritage, which accounts for just 0.2% of global seizures in all categories not just antiquities.
The WCO reports from recent years prove once and for all that it is simply not true to say the Illicit trade in antiquities ranks third only to illicit trade in drugs and arms, as has so often been claimed – a claim now acknowledged as bogus by the likes of Interpol. Yet such claims have been made so frequently they are believed by the public and continue to be repeated by government officials, UNESCO UNODC and NGOs, as well as bloggers and bankers. There is the occasional hopeful sign of independent thought in reporting, with one journalist questioning the scale of the illicit trade: “some things just don’t add up. I think too many of the sources contacted by journalists may be peddling opinion here, not fact.”
In recent years there have been some high-profile cross-border and cross-agency swoops with much-vaunted arrests. These have included seven major international operations since 2014. Take Operation Pandora, conducted over a few days in November 2016. This involved Customs, Europol and Interpol across 18 different countries. There were 75 arrests with 65 of them in Bulgaria.
The information available on the Europol, Interpol and WCO websites is far from comprehensive, with no information available for more recent Operations. Taking into account that the Pandora operations were part of the larger Athena operations, we can find a total of 288 arrests across all of the operations over a seven-year period involving over 100 countries worldwide. This is clear from the World Custom Organisation’s own annual Illicit Trade Reports, although these only cover reports made via the Customs Enforcement Network (CEN). We have no information on how many items seized were later shown to be illicit nor any information about how many of the estimated 288 arrests over the seven-year period resulted in successful convictions. We also have no information on the likely total costs of these operations, nor whether any competent analysis has been carried out into their effectiveness. Surely measuring their true effectiveness is crucial to policy formation? Otherwise it appears their purpose is a form of costly propaganda.
The burden on public resources is high, with the Rand Report noting that;
“….. For high-value goods and key nodes in the network, efforts by police and customs officials can successfully identify and prosecute criminal actors. However, these enforcement actions are time consuming, costly, and often require significant cross-border cooperation by law-enforcement agencies, which can often be difficult to organize. Instead, a broader-based approach aimed at undermining the trust among illicit actors and in the technologies they rely on could disrupt the illicit market more broadly and cheaply.”
International law enforcement promotes its work on these operations, yet we seldom hear about the ultimate results in terms of successful prosecution and evidence clearly demonstrating links to terrorist funding. Some accountability and transparency here would be welcome, especially as it would allow funding authorities to assess whether their sponsorship of these operations is well targeted or could be better deployed elsewhere.
Twenty-five years ago the internet revolution hadn’t yet happened. Both access to and use of the internet, particularly via mobile phones, has brought great advancement as well as increased complexities and problems in the last quarter century. With the proliferation of direct online selling platforms in more recent years, this has stretched the definition of the terms “art dealer” and “antiquities dealer”. Organisations such as the Athar Project have appeared in response to some of the associated issues. It can be difficult to draw the distinction between a legitimate dealer selling online, an entrepreneur setting up a home-spun business or a nefarious character trying to sell illicit goods.
The Athar Project asserts that “Facebook has become a sprawling digital black market, facilitating illicit trade in antiquities from across the Middle East and North Africa.” The RAND Corporation report, which focuses on Open Source data, suggests otherwise, stating: “We find no evidence that illegal sales are occurring in large or even steady quantities on deep web platforms, such as Facebook or Telegram, and we find virtually no evidence of antiquities being traded on the dark web.” The RAND report conducted extensive research with Chapter 4 entitled “Antiquities Trafficking Online” where it analysed antiquities trafficking on Arabic-language Facebook groups and states that:
“…where users would share glamorous images of gold artifacts, treasures, and valuable antiquities, with occasional accounts of treasure-hunting explorations of finds that make the riches seem attainable. The group projected the idea that this was a world in which treasure hunting—looting—could yield wealth within easy reach. This curated image is largely an illusion. Using Google’s reverse-image search quickly reveals that the majority of the images posted on these groups are actually recycled images from news articles and museum websites. Similarly, images that show gold artifacts still buried in the ground are often photos from professional archaeological excavations or stock photographs …”
Nevertheless in June 2020, Facebook announced a ban on the sale of historical artefacts on its platforms, which received wide media coverage, many articles quoting: “The trafficking of art and antiquities is believed to be one of the world’s most profitable illegal trades after drug and arms dealing and is estimated to generate billions of dollars a year.”
With the penalties high for looted material – together with the inherent danger of looting from vulnerable sites located in the middle of conflicts – there is an increasing problem with the circulation of fakes. The experienced will be able to detect many of the fakes from photographs alone and it is clear just by a brief search on eBay and other platforms that these are a problem, making it all the more important for private individuals to buy only from reputable dealers and auction houses. “Maamoun Abdulkarim, [former] Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums in Syria, said the percentage of fakes among looted antiquities seized in Syria and Lebanon had risen from 30 percent to 70 percent in the past three years….”  What is “Perhaps more striking [about sales on eBay] is the high volume of sales from Thailand, a country not typically associated with Roman antiquity. An analysis of a sample of the individual sales suggest that many, or perhaps most, of these the items are fake.”
In common with the wider art trade the vast majority of legitimate antiquities dealers also use the internet and social media platforms to sell antiquities – the internet is one vast ‘shop window’. This makes banning the use of such platforms unworkable. Policies need to be refined to find solutions to prevent illicit goods and fakes from being sold online, while protecting legitimate businesses.
END OF PART 2
Read Part 1, which covers definitions, academic relations, orphan antiquities, the 2000 date, and source country export licenses.
Read Part 3, which covers the law, European Union and U.S. developments, art fair seizures, legal trade, orphans and fair compensation, and the way forward.
Author’s Note: I thank UNIDROIT and its Principal Legal Officer & Treaty Depositary, Marina Schneider, for inviting me to present this paper for publication and contribute to the Conference celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the UNIDROIT Convention.
– Joanna van der Lande, Chairman, Antiquities Dealers’ Association
 European Association of Archaeologists, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis Statement of the Committee on Illicit Trade in Cultural Materials to an ongoing auction at Christie’s, undated. https://www.e-a-a.org/EAA/Navigation_News/Statement_of_the_Committee_on_Illicit_Trade.aspx
 My Art Makes the Visible Invisible, Ulrichdebalbian, Calls to open looted-art archives grow louder Medici and Becchina, 3 June 2015. https://ulrichdebalbian.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/calls-to-open-looted-art-archives-grow-louder-medici-and-becchina/
 The Journal of Cultural Heritage Crime, A Double Seizure of Antiquities at Tefaf 2020, 21 March 2020. https://www.journalchc.com/2020/05/21/a-double-seizure-of-antiquities-at-tefaf-2020-an-interview-with-the-experts/
 The Journal of Cultural Heritage Crime, ibid.
 Journal of the History of Collections 22 (1), April 2010, Tom Hardwick, Five Months Before Tut: Purchasers and prices at the MacGregor sale, 1922 provides useful insights and information on the sale.
 The museum authorities told the BBC the casing stone came from the Great Pyramid of Giza and was found by a British engineer, working on behalf of the Astronomer Royal of Scotland. He had uncovered it in a rubble heap from roadworks being undertaken by the Egyptian government in 1869. With the official permission of the Viceroy of Egypt and the assistance of the Egyptian Antiquities Service “The stone was brought to the UK ……. in 1872 and transported to …… Edinburgh……” With documentation showing its legal ownership – as the museum claimed it could show – it was difficult to see how the Egyptian claim could be valid. Yet the Egyptian Repatriation Department vowed to take any measures necessary to have items that had been trafficked out of Egypt returned and they made a claim, albeit unsuccessfully. BBC Article, Angie Brown, Museum of Scotland in row over authenticity of Great Pyramid stone, 9 January 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-46802323
 Text of the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, 24 June 1995. https://www.unidroit.org/instruments/cultural-property/1995-convention
 Open Archaeology 2016; 2:127-139, Michael Lewis, A Detectoris’s Utopia? Archaeology and Metal-Detecting in England and Wales, p.130. https://peterborougharchaeology.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/A_Detectorists_Utopia_Archaeology_and_Metal-Detec.pdf and for a further insight into how the UK system works see Cahn’s Quarterly 1/2018 , Michael Lewis, Preserving the Past: Recording Archaeological Finds made by the Public, pp.4-5. https://files.artbutler.com/file/1335/43bd5bb013c347ae.pdf
 Text of UK Government Press release: Government redefines treasure to increase protection for archaeological finds. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-redefines-treasure-to-increase-protection-for-archaeological-finds
 The Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Œuvres d’Art (CINOA), representing the international art and antiques trade, is the largest art dealer federation, established in 1935. Members of all these organisations are required to adhere to ethical codes while individual trade association have their own codes of conduct. https://www.cinoa.org/cinoa/codeofethics
 House of Commons, Culture, Media and Sport – Seventh Report Session 1999-2000. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmcumeds/371/37102.htm
 Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade (Chairman Professor Norman Palmer) Report, December 2000. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/78352/Report_AdPanel_Illicit_Trade.pdf
 Hala Jaber & George Arbuthnot, Syrians Loot Roman Treasures to Buy Guns, 5 May 2013. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/syrians-loot-roman-treasures-to-buy-guns-q5z9fgzs9t0
 Lord Renfrew co-chaired an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Cultural Heritage with David Burrowes MP. http://www.parikiaki.com/2015/12/david-burrowes-mp-launches-new-group-to-protect-cultural-heritage/ . Lord Renfrew’s express wish was for the UK to ratify the Hague Convention. Considerable momentum had built in support of this aim as a result of events unfolding in Syria and Iraq. The APPG was launched at City Hall in 2015. The APPG held several meetings in the Palace of Westminster over the course of 2016, which saw many discussions, with MPs, academics, lawyers, NGOs, the police, the trade and others. It provided an opportunity to exchange ideas and concerns, particularly about protecting Cultural Heritage, with an examination of whether London was seeing an influx of looted antiquities from the Syrian civil war and how to prevent anything from entering the market in the future. While the subject matter varied from points of law and policing to discussing the ADA’s new Code of Conduct, the APPG acted as a forum in which to discuss the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, the legislation brought forward to accompany the UK’s ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention. The 1954 Hague Convention, its two Protocols, and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017 came into force in the UK on 12 December 2017 – Department for Culture, Media & Sport, text for the Implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, its Protocols and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661733/Guidance_on_implementation_of_the_Convention_-_final.pdf
 Department for Culture, Media & Sport, text for Guidance on the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661760/Guidance_on_s17_dealing_offence_-_final.pdf
 British Council, Cultural Protection Fund Project Egypt. https://www.britishcouncil.org/arts/culture-development/cultural-protection-fund/projects/egypt
 British Museum, Circulating Artefacts Database website. https://www.britishmuseum.org/our-work/departments/egypt-and-sudan/circulating-artefacts
 Circulating Artefacts Database Registration Page. https://www.britishmuseum.org/our-work/departments/egypt-and-sudan/circulating-artefacts/registration-form
 The Times, David Sanderson, High-Tech Hunt for Looted Antiquities, 26 March 2020. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hi-tech-hunt-for-looted-antiquities-9lzd8mdb0
 Artnet, Sarah Cascone, Egypt Will Sue Christie’s Over the $6 Million Sale of a King Tut Sculpture Officials Claim Was Looted From a Temple, 9 July 2019. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/egypt-christies-lawsuit-king-tut-sculpture-1595746
 The Art Newspaper, Gareth Harris, ‘The Public needs to know the truth’: company that valued Sekhemka statue before its controversial sale speaks out, 8 October 2020. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/sekhemka-truth-controversial-sale
 RAND Corporation, by Matthew Sargent, James V. Marrone, Alexandra Evans, Bilyana Lilly, Erik Nemeth, Stephen Dalzell, Tracking and Disrupting the Illicit Antiquities Trade with Open-Source Data, June 2020, Summary Findings, xi-xii. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2706.html
 RAND, pl.84.
 European Commission, DG TAXUD, Deloitte, Fighting Illicit trafficking in cultural goods: analysis of customs issues in the EU, Final report June 2017. https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/sites/taxation/files/annex_08_dg_taxud_study_fighting_illicit_trafficking_in_cultural_goods_en.pdf
 European Commission, Ecorys, Dr N Brodie, Dr Donna Yates et al, Illicit Trade in cultural goods in Europe, 2019. https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/d79a105a-a6aa-11e9-9d01-01aa75ed71a1/language-en/format-PDF/source-search The study was largely based on interviews with a total of 36 individuals across all stakeholders in the 28 EU member states and 124 survey responses across 39 countries (p. 53) – dubbed “a relatively low response rate” (p. 60) by the report’s authors, who concluded (p.63) that “As a result of the lack of statistics, the conclusions of this study are predominantly supported by qualitative data.”
 Ecorys, p.15.
 Ecorys, p.15.
 Ecorys, p.92.
 The Herald, Russell Leadbetter, Meet Dr Donna Yates, the expert aiming to make antiquities-collecting socially unacceptable, 25 April 2016. https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14449101.meet-dr-donna-yates-the-expert-aiming-to-make-antiquities-collecting-socially-unacceptable/
 Press Release at the launch of ILLICID, April 2015.
 Institute of Art & Law, Charlotte Dunn, Recent report on the illicit antiquities trade receives mixed response, 10 June 2020 https://ial.uk.com/report-illicit-antiquities-trade/ which touches on the complexities of provenance and the mismatch in expectations from different groups.
 Publication of the ILLICID report into the illegal trade in cultural property in Germany, IADAA. https://iadaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/IADAA-Analysis-of-ILLICID-final-report-1-07-2019.pdf
 Birthe Hemeier & Markus Hilgert; Transparency, Provenance and Consumer Protection; Facts and Policy Recommendations Concerning the Trade in Ancient Cultural Property in Germany, Findings of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s Collaborative Project Analysing the Dark Figure as a Basis for Countering and Preventing Crime Using the Example of Ancient Cultural Property (ILLICID), December 2019, p.321.3.8; Findings of stakeholder surveys. https://cultural-heritage-and-multilateralism2020.com/storage/documents/Illicid_report_english.pdf
 German Cultural Assets Protection Law Moves Inexorably Forward, Burden of proof to show legal export on dealers and collectors, Cultural Property News, 14 April 2016. https://culturalpropertynews.org/german-cultural-assets-protection-law-moves-inexorably-forward/
 Restrictive German Cultural Property Law Now In English, But Not the 400 Page Guidebook Explaining How It Works, 18 August 2017. https://culturalpropertynews.org/restrictive-german-cultural-property-law-now-in-english/
 Cultural Property News, Kate FitzGibbon, Art Imports to EU threatened by Draconian Regulation, 29 December 2018. https://culturalpropertynews.org/art-imports-to-eu-threatened-by-draconian-regulation/ and EU regulation Curtailing Import of Art & Antiquities Now Law, 16 June 2019. https://culturalpropertynews.org/eu-regulation-curtailing-import-of-art-antiquities-now-law/
 Official Journal of the European Union, Chapter 2, Customs Corporation. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:12012E/TXT:EN:PDF#page=15
 Antiquities Coalition, Deborah Lehr, Blood Antiquities, 1 February 2016. https://theantiquitiescoalition.org/blood-antiquities/ sows the seeds of further confusion by referring to the “almost US$54 billion global market for ancient statues, sculptures, jewelry, coins, art and other rare artefacts is gaining cachet among high-net-worth investors seeking to diversify their portfolios, that market is also fraught with an unexpected and ignoble risk: enabling terrorism.” Implying this is the size of the antiquities market when it better reflects the size of the global art and antiques market.” Lehr goes on to say, “Finally, antiquities collectors can simply stop buying blood antiquities. If the most sophisticated auction houses and museums in the world are unable to reliably verify provenance, how can an individual be sure that their antiquity was not the result of crime and conflict…” She demonstrates little understanding of the history of the antiquities trade and is singled out for personal criticism in the RAND report (see page 11).
 RAND, p.11.
 Ecorys, p.115.
 The New Yorker, Ben Taub, The Real Value of the Isis Antiquities Trade, 4 December 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-real-value-of-the-isis-antiquities-trade
 As the RAND Corporation Report also concludes, false data leads to poor policy: “The result is that, to the extent that policy solutions have been guided by these beliefs, existing policy frameworks may be poorly suited to addressing the decentralized nature of the problem.” Policy Responses Based on Findings, page xiii.
 IADAA, Summary of the findings on cultural property in the World Customs Organisation’s Illicit Trade Report 2019, September 2020. https://iadaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/IADAA-analysis-of-WCO-Annual-report-2019-dated-September-2020.pdf
 World Customs Organisation Illicit Trade Report 2019. http://www.wcoomd.org/-/media/wco/public/global/pdf/topics/enforcement-and-compliance/activities-and-programmes/illicit-trade-report/itr_2019_en.pdf?db=web According to the WCO totals for 2019, the average value of coins seized was under $100. A significant 54.7% of all Cultural Heritage items seized in 2019 were currency and medals including coins and banknotes, while the number of archaeological items reported and seized fell by around half, from 314 to about 150 worldwide. Fakes made up a percentage of the seizures and judging from the photographs in the report not all of the items are correctly identified as such.
 Standard Chartered Bank, Combatting Illegal Antiquities Trade, December 2018. https://av.sc.com/corp-en/others/Combating-Illegal-Antiquities-Trade_FINAL.pdf
 Real Clear Arts, Judith H. Dobrzynski, Antiquities and ISIS: Something Doesn’t Add Up, 10 January 2016. https://www.artsjournal.com/realcleararts/2016/01/antiquities-and-isis-something-doesnt-add-up.html
 Europol Press Release concerning Operation Pandora, 23 January 2017. https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/3561-artefacts-seized-in-operation-pandora
 The high number of arrests in Bulgaria supports the findings of the RAND Report, Case Study 2: Bulgaria – Looting and Trafficking of Antiquities, pp.103-110. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2706.html . 1000 objects from a single seizure in Poland involving an illegal metal detectorist comprised spent bullet cartridges and rusted gun stocks from the 2nd World War, which are listed as cultural property under Polish law. With 500 archaeological objects (mostly coins) from Murcia, Spain. Of the remaining 1600 objects, Europol says that “several” are “of great cultural importance in the archaeological world, such as a marble Ottoman tombstone and a post-Byzantine icon depicting Saint George, along with two Byzantine artefacts”. All were seized in Greece, another country that is not a war zone, nor did they appear to originate in war zones.
 IADAA, Summary of the findings on cultural property in the World Customs Organisation’s Illicit Trade Report 2019, September 2020. https://iadaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/IADAA-analysis-of-WCO-Annual-report-2019-dated-September-2020.pdf
 A request for information relating to Operation Athena, including the list of the 81 countries involved, details of major seizures, including volumes and values, and information on any potential links to terrorism financing of material seized, was made to Europol in February 2018. The response read: “Unfortunately we do not have such information at hand as we only have a fragmented picture: this operation was coordinated between three partners – us, INTERPOL and the WCO.”
 RAND, Responding to Illicit Networks, p.96.
 RAND Corporation, Summary Findings, xii and Summary Findings, xiii: “Technology used in the looted antiquities trade is mostly unsophisticated. Studies of other illegal goods suggest that the dark web would be a natural place to sell looted antiquities. However, our analysis of dark web platforms finds virtually no evidence of antiquities sales. On deep web platforms, such as Telegram and Facebook, we also find little evidence of antiquities sales, although other secure messaging applications, such as WhatsApp and Viber, are used to coordinate sales and streamline communications within existing networks. We agree with other researchers who have concluded that the low level of enforcement and the existence of low-risk sales channels reduces the need for dark or deep web sales of antiquities.”
 RAND, Chapter 4, Antiquities Trafficking Online, pp.43-67.
 RAND, p.54.
 Carlie Porterfield, Facebook Bans Artifacts Trade After Uptick In Posts Of Looted Objects, 23 June 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carlieporterfield/2020/06/23/facebook-bans-artifacts-trade-after-uptick-in-posts-of-looted-objects/#7ccaf3736f03
 RAND, Fakes and Forgeries, p.39.
 RAND, Fakes and Forgeries, p.80.