While I try to finalise the presentation of a report on antiquities trafficking for a roundtable discussion at UNESCO, new evidence continues to emerge.
The scale of the trade
In India, records now show that at least 4,408 antiquities were stolen from temples between 2010 and 2012. India’s police report that such idols are ‘usually’ stolen to order (whether for collectors or market-end dealers).
Last year, I published an open-source (and open-access) analysis of looting-to-order and theft-to-order of cultural property. Then, on the 19th of November, seventeen paintings were stolen from the Verona Civic Museum of Castelvecchio. People speculated that the paintings had been stolen to fund terrorism, stolen to supply a collector or simply stolen.
There appear to be at least twelve people involved in an organised trafficking ring. The named suspects are Francesco Silvestri, Francesco’s twin brother Pasquale Silvestri and Pasquale’s partner Svetlana Pkachuck. At the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), Lynda Albertson has translated and detailed the Carabinieri’s breakthrough in Operation Gemini.
It is not yet (at least not publicly) clear whether the paintings were stolen for an individual in Moldova or whether they were smuggled from Italy to Moldova in order to be delivered to an individual elsewhere. Nonetheless, according to wiretapped conversations between the thieves, three or four of the works of art were destined for an individual, who had commissioned the robbery. The efficient criminals stole the other thirteen or fourteen artworks because they had the opportunity.
While the media feed the public’s obsession with antiquities trafficking by the Islamic State, cultural property is being extracted from the Middle East and North Africa (as well as West Africa) in even more tragic circumstances. Antiquities are flowing along the same corridors of human misery as asylum seekers. Mesopotamian alabaster statuettes have been found in a tent at a refugee centre in Slovenia.