Ukraine: illicit antiquities trade recap

Behind the fog of war and the smoke of the propaganda machine, there is evidence that Ukraine’s kleptocratic former regime engaged in illicit antiquities collecting, whether through the embezzlement of cultural goods from museums or the purchase of illegally excavated archaeological material. The grey nature of the antiquities market facilitates money laundering, so its investigation will contribute to financial asset recovery and prosecution of powerful, transnational criminal networks, as well as cultural property restitution and the minimisation of harm to the cultural heritage/tourist economy.

There has already been reportedly mass export, ‘massive transfer [массовый вывоз] of… cultural objects from Crimean museums to the Russian capital’ (and there is already at least some forensic evidence of plunder of museums in eastern Ukraine). Hence, in the face of Russia’s campaign for Scythian gold artefacts to be returned to Crimea, which, remarkably, has been echoed by some cultural heritage voices, Ukraine has changed the law on the transfer of cultural property, in order to prevent it being sent somewhere that it would be at risk of expropriation (or other loss or destruction).

I’ve conducted extensive research into the relationships between antiquities trafficking, organised crime and political violence (primarily in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also elsewhere). If I might be able to help, please contact me.

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