Unevidenced suspicion of IS-stolen art, antiquities in Sweden (Misstanke: IS-stulen konst i Sverige)

On my last day in Lebanon, where I’ve been taking part in some meetings on cultural destruction and helping with some training on antiquities trafficking, this news feels perfectly timed.

Information-sharing and investigation

UNESCO Sweden relayed @Unescosverige that Swedish police had ‘seized cultural objects suspected to be looted from Syria according to Swedish News agency TT’ (via Markus Hilgert @textcultures).

Obviously, it may not be helpful for the police to notify UNESCO of every single case of cultural property crime individually. But, if this is a suspected case of conflict antiquities trafficking, might it have helped everyone if UNESCO had not heard about the police investigation in the news?

Hopefully, now that Sweden has a National Operations Division (Nationella operativa avdelningen (NOA)) – which will (also) investigate cultural heritage crime (kulturarvsbrott), including objects that are suspected to have been stolen abroad (föremål som misstänks ha stulits i utlandet) – information-sharing will increase. It would support the police’s investigations (and save time and resources) as well as facilitate UNESCO’s efforts at documentation and analysis.

However, I reckon the police said they suspected the objects were from Syria, and the media assumed therefore the objects were from the Islamic State (when they could have been from other armed groups, or organised criminals, or mere opportunists, or refugees…).

Either way, it demonstrates the need for cooperation and the danger of analysis that is dependent upon poorly-evidenced open-source data.

Investigation and suspicion

In terms of the overall problem, Swedish police believe that there are ‘high-value objects from Syria in Sweden [föremål från Syrien i Sverige som betingar ett högt värde]’. They have ‘no evidence that there are collectors in the Nordic region [inte belägg för att det finns samlare i Norden]’, but they are concerned about the ‘risk [risken]’ that Sweden will become a ‘transit country [transitland]’.

In relation to this specific case, the Newspapers’ Telegram Bureau (Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT)) has reported: ‘Artefacts, found in Sweden, may come from the IS terrorist group’s plundering in Syria, the police suspect [Kulturföremål som hittats i Sverige kan komma från terrorgruppen IS plundringar i Syrien, misstänker polisen]’.

In fact, ‘during a house search, recently, several artefacts were found that police suspect come from Syria. [Vid en husrannsakan nyligen hittades flera kulturföremål som polisen misstänker kommer från Syrien.]’ Police Superintendent Kenneth Mandergrehn pointed out that it was ‘early in the investigation [tidigt i utredningen]’ and the origins of the objects had ‘not been confirmed [inte fått det bekräftat]’.

So, while it remains a possibility, there is no evidence that these antiquities were handled by the Islamic State or the profits benefited the Islamic State.

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