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Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods and Antiquities

Skulls in the mail: Indonesia foils artifact smuggling

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Global crackdown on trafficking of cultural artefacts results in seizure of 18,000 items

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A Europol and Interpol-backed crackdown on the trafficking of cultural artefacts involving customs and police officers from 29 countries has resulted in the recovery of 18,000 items and the arrest of 59 suspects.

Operation Pandora III, which was also coordinated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and Spain’s Guardia Civil, involved law enforcement agents focussing on key markets for smuggled cultural items with a view to disputing the organised criminal networks behind their trafficking.

The majority of seized items were recovered in European countries, but more than 30 were found in locations outside of Europe, such as Egypt, Iraq, Colombia and Morocco.

The week-long initiative, which took place at the end of October last year, saw investigators carry out inspections and raids at numerous locations, making 49 arrests and imposing 67 administrative sanctions at auction houses, art galleries, museums and private houses.

Law enforcement agents taking part in the effort also carried out checks at airports, seaports and land crossings, resulting in four arrests, three administrative sanctions and the seizure of 201 cultural items.

Elsewhere, inspections carried out at archaeological sites led to the arrest of six suspects, the issuing of 49 administrative sanctions and the discovery and seizure of 909 cultural goods.

A single operation carried out by police in Spain resulted in the discovery of some 10 000 archaeological artefacts, while investigators in Italy impounded 91 ceramic objects and 109 ancient coins in private properties and mail centres.

Separately, one investigation conducted by detectives in Poland resulted in the seizure of 419 cultural items, while law enforcement officials in the Netherlands found a 15th century bible that had been stolen in Germany over 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, German police confiscated an ancient Mesopotamian crystal cylinder seal that had been shipped into the country via the mail system.

In a statement, Europol said: “Given the transnational dimension of this crime, Europol, Interpol and the WCO established 24/7 operational coordination units to support information sharing as well as to disseminate alerts and warnings and perform cross-checks in different international and national databases.

“Europol… played a key role in implementing the entire operation by facilitating information exchange, and providing analytical and operational support.

“Officers made full use of Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art database, with several hundred searches performed during the operation.

“Experts from Europol, Interpol and the WCO were also deployed to provide analytical on-the-spot support over the course of the cyber patrol week.”

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Jihadi networks using Facebook to trade looted antiquities stolen from war-torn countries, report reveals

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Islamist terrorist networks are using Facebook Groups to trade looted antiquities stolen from conflict zones such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, according to a report from the Athar Project.

In analysis of 95 Arabic-language Facebook Groups set up to facilitate the trafficking of looted antiquities, the project, which is run by a group of volunteer anthropologists, discovered that such items are being traded by members of violent extremist organisations including Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham (HTS), Hurras Al-Din and the Zinki Brigade.

All of these jihadi factions, along with several other Daesh and al-Qa’ida affiliates, are said to be actively using the Groups to trade antiquities stolen from war-torn countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including items that were looted by Daesh in Iraq and Syria before the final collapse of its so-called caliphate in March of this year.

Members of these networks are said to be either using Facebook to trade directly with buyers, or as a means by which to manage relationships with middlemen who sell to dealers and members of the public.

The project found that administrators of these Groups are highly interconnected and have a global reach, noting that a US antiques dealer is linked with one individual involved with the running of multiple trafficking pages on Facebook.

Administrators are said to demand a commission on any sales that are secured as a result of contact made through their Groups, blocking any members who refuse to hand over payment.

Researchers discovered that the 95 Groups analysed for their study were managed by 488 individual administrators, and had 1,947,195 members.

“Facebook offers a veritable digital toolbox for traffickers to utilise, including photo and video uploads, live streaming, disappearing ‘Stories’, payment mechanisms, and encrypted messaging,” the report reads.

“Facebook is the perfect platform for a one-stop shop black market. This in turn has made Facebook the wild west of social media, providing opportunities for violent extremist organisations and criminal groups to operate in plain sight with little recourse.”

Facebook and other social media platforms have become vital tools for organised criminal networks, allowing them to communicate over encrypted internet connections and link up with buyers they might otherwise not be able to reach.

Over the course of the past 18 months alone, Facebook has been accused of facilitating the crimes of people smugglers, wildlife criminals and sex traffickers.

Image credit: www.thoughtcatalog.com

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Border officers at Cairo airport discover mummified human remains in hollowed out loudspeakers

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Customs officers at Egypt’s Cairo International Airport have discovered mummified human remains stashed inside two speakers, according to a statement issued by the country’s Ministry of Antiquities.

After inspecting the speakers, which had been hollowed out to accommodate the remains, investigators were able to identify six separate body parts belonging to two mummies, including feet, hands and parts of a torso.

Border inspectors found the mummified remains after noticing anomalies while scanning a parcel containing the speakers that was bound for Belgium, prompting them to further examine the package’s contents.

The Ministry of Antiquities has not identified who was behind the shipment, or specified whether any arrests have been made in connection with its discovery.

Officials said the remains would be transferred to archaeologists working at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where they would be studied further and restored.

It is hoped that tests carried out at the museum might shed light on where the body parts originate from.

In a post on Facebook, the ministry wrote: “An archaeological committee examined it and confirmed its authenticity.

“They are now confiscated according to the Antiquities Protection law and its amendments. The parts are now at the Egyptian museum for restoration.”

According to the Egyptian Law on the Protection of Antiquities, “all antiquities are strictly regulated and considered to be the property of the State”.

The smuggling out of the country of any such items, including mummified remains, is punishable with a jail term of up to two years.

Last month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York said it had returned a gilded coffin to Egypt after learning it had been stolen in 2011.

Commenting on the return of the item, Daniel Weiss, President and CEO at the museum, said: “After we learned that the Museum was a victim of fraud and unwittingly participated in the illegal trade of antiquities, we worked with the District Attorney’s office for its return to Egypt.

“The nation of Egypt has been a strong partner of the Museum’s for over a century. We extend our apologies to Dr Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Antiquities, and the people of Egypt, and our appreciation to District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr’s office for its investigation, and now commit ourselves to identifying how justice can be served, and how we can help to deter future offenses against cultural property.”

Live Science reports that cultural objects estimated to be worth some $50 million were smuggled out of Egypt to the US in 2016.

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