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FBI Meeting on Illegal Trafficking in Antiquities

posted by Linda Downs — Jul 14, 2015

During a conference call on July 9, 2015, with representatives of learned societies, auction houses, and government agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed that looting of antiquities in Syria and Iraq has taken place. They have also received confirmation from informants and found evidence of industrial levels of looting from satellite photos. The FBI asked the participants on the call to ask their constituents to follow due diligence and to reach out if anyone suspects objects to have been looted. They emphasized that most of the art market is relatively “clean,” meaning that most objects bought and sold have not been looted or illegally sold. However, it usually takes two years for looted items to begin to flood the market.

The FBI requested expert cooperation. Trafficking in cultural property is covered by the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property and by the US Criminal Code, in which it is considered criminal to “providing material support” if an expert in antiquities even suspects that objects have been looted and a report is not made to the FBI. one can call 855-835-5324.

The responsibility of the FBI is to dismantle illegal trafficking networks, not to provide data or set policy. The FBI is currently working on outreach that will better inform the public, create more awareness, and address reporting procedures.

CAA has invited FBI to address CAA members at the 2016 Annual Conference in Washington, DC, on February 4, 2016, on what antiquities experts should be aware of if they suspect they have found looted objects, and if reporting to the FBI would involve antiquities experts in legal processes and disclosure to the public. The FBI will also provide an update of the sites that have been looted in Syria and Iraq, and they will address current criminal law and international treaties related to sale, purchase, and possession of antiquities.