The antiquities trade in the Islamic State: 12.5% taxation of private looting-smuggling business?

Die Zeit has conducted a massive investigation into Islamic State finances. It involved twelve journalists in seven countries, including Syria and Iraq. Notably, the IS does not appear to impose al khums (one-fifth) tax. ‘Ten percent of everything is the policy’ for taxation, ‘on both profits and capital’, with ‘a 2.5 percent charity tax’ on top (though some taxes ‘are nothing more than protection money in disguise’). So, 12.5% in total.

The central piece on the business of the caliph does not discuss antiquities but, as Paul Barford notes, it is ‘difficult to see how supporters of the no-questions-asked market can assume with such levels of financial control, that any profits made from illicit antiquities are not passing through ISIL hands’.

Furthermore, when I asked one of its authors, Yassin Musharbash, if they had found any information on looting or smuggling of cultural property, he confirmed that they had and kindly immediately summarised their key findings. He also noted that another of their authors, Fritz Zimmermann, had written a German-language article on the Islamic State and antiquities (der “Islamische Staat” und die Antiken). It’s not online quite yet. There is also an interview with the German Minister for Culture and Media, Monika Grütters, and German archaeologist Hermann Parzinger.

A photo of the opening of the article shows that the Syrian Director of Antiquities and Museums, Maamoun Abdulkarim, asks: ‘What do you think, how many antiquities must you sell to earn 36 million dollars?…. 36 million dollars? No, I think not. [Was glauben Sie, wie viele Kunstobjekte man verkaufen muss, um 36 Millionen Dollar zu verdienen?…. 36 Millionen Dollar? Nein, das glaube ich nicht.]’

Musharbash (@abususu) summarised: ‘Main finding: NO hard proof that #IS involved in sale (1/2) / (2/2) Acc[ording] to our info #IS lets smugglers dig for money, but noone [no-one] has yet found a piece on the black markt [market] from #IS territory.’


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