Sunday, February 17th, 2008
A raid on a drug suspect in Greece turned up just a bit of heroin but a lot of antiquities.
The artifacts, believed to have been illegally obtained, include hundreds of bronze coins dating to the ancient Greek and Roman eras, a clay statuette of the goddess Aphrodite dating to the Hellenistic era, a bronze pipe and various broaches dating to the Iron Age.
Illegally obtained = looted.
One of the (many) disturbing aspects of the antiquities trade is how often the dealers turn out to be dealers, as in drug and arms. Established smuggling networks are versatile things, after all. Why not throw in a few hundred looted and intentionally broken for ease of transport antique vases along with the blow while you’re at it?
It’s a lot cheaper and easier to drop dynamite in a hole and bulldoze out all the ancient goodies you can than it is to make heroin out of poppies. It’s almost pure profit, and diversification is always good for business.
From Law enforcement issues in art theft. (PDF), one of the sources for the SAFE article:
We know that overseas crime related to art and cultural property is significant, as is its inextricable relationship to major and organised crime. Groups as diverse as the American, Italian and Russian Mafia, the IRA and Columbian cocaine cartels have been identified as being involved. They can be conclusively linked to drugs and arms dealing’, those involved are dangerous and they are very capable of violence (Hill C. 1995). The Russians are known to traffic in art and cultural property through over 40 gangs of émigrés who are living in the west. The motivation to steal art and cultural property has resulted in other serious crime including murder, robbery and deprivation of liberty. With an ‘annual dollar value in art and cultural property theft being exceeded only by trafficking in illicit narcotics, money laundering and (illegal) arms trafficking’ (Interpol, 1998).
Then there are the terrorists. Mohammed Atta admitted to selling stolen antiquities to help finance 9/11. There’s a slogan all ready to go: buy antiquities and the terrorists win. Only this time it’s accurate.