Showing posts with label art and organized crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art and organized crime. Show all posts

February 11, 2017

Recovered: More paintings with ties to 'Ndràngheta

“Miracolo di Gesù” (guarigione del nato cieco) 
Italian law enforcement knew they were onto something when a search warrant executed on the apartment of a pensioner in Reggio Calabria turned up a religious painting. Cross checking the canvas, which depicted Christ healing a blind man, with images in "Leonardo", the Italian database of stolen cultural properties overseen by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the officers' search query came back with a positive match to a painting stolen in Randazzo, Sicily in 2001.

A second search warrant was then executed on another apartment in Messina, Sicily titled to the same individual where thirteen other artworks were recovered.


The artworks recovered in Messina are:

“Paesaggio” signed with the initials “a.s.”
“Uomo con Cappello” signed with the initials “bv”
“Natura Morta” by Giuliana Cappello
“Nudo di Donna” by Giuliana Cappello
“Tree and Head” by Salvator Dalì
“Figure su Sfondo Rosso”, by Renato Guttuso
“Combattimento Tra Due Galli” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Folla con Sfondo Sole Rosso e Volto Barbuto” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Pescatore” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Pescivendolo” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Veduta Urbana con Persone”, by Mario Pinizzotto
“Ponte Vecchio”
A bust of Christ 

The artworks are believed to be a small portion of the collection of 78 year old Calabrian businessman Gioacchino Campolo, who was sentenced in 2011 to 18 years house arrest for criminal association, extortion and usury jointly by the Casalesi clan of the Camorra and the De Stefano 'ndrina, one of the most powerful 'Ndràngheta clans in Reggio Calabria.

Gioacchino Campolo 
With an estimated €320 million in assets Campolo needed a creative form of investment.  He transformed his profits from crime and corruption into forty real estate holdings in Paris, Rome and Reggio Calabria and by buying noteworthy artworks. In 2013, the Italian government formally confiscated 125 works from his collection including paintings by Salvador Dalì, Giorgio De Chirico, Bonalumi, Carrà, Lucio Fontana, Renato Guttuso, Domenico Purificato, Rosai, Mario Sironi, Antonio Ligabue and many others.

Those art works are now part of a permanent exhibition titled “From shadow to light,” housed in a four thousand square meter gallery at the Palace of Culture in Reggio Calabria.


The owner of the properties where the 2017 recent cache of artworks were recovered has been charged with receiving stolen goods and is reported to possibly be a former employee.

By: Lynda Albertson

July 26, 2016

Illicit Antiquities Trafficking an Ongoing, Organized Enterprise in Italy

This week, in the town of Teano, 30 kilometres northwest of Caserta on the road to Rome from Naples, the Carabinieri formally placed under investigation four individuals under suspicion of having committed a series of thefts “of historical interest” and then selling their stash onward via the illegal market.  In layman's English, the men were arrested for trafficking illicit antiquities and laundering them on via middlemen on to wealthy buyers.   The archaeological areas of Teano-Calvi have long been massacred for decades by tomb raiders without scruples.


One of those arrested was Emilio Autieri, a 65 year old registered nurse with Italy's Local Health Authority Service (Azienda Sanitaria Locale, ASL) which proves that even with a decent state pension, individuals can be coaxed into a world of illicit crime where money flows freely and behind closed doors.   He and 22 year old Antonia Pane have been placed under house arrest pending further investigation.   Massimo Aversano, 43 and 19 year old Domenico De Biasio have been released on their own recognizance with reporting conditions and restrictions to not leave the territorial area.

The investigation began in January 2016 following a not-publicized theft from the Archaeological Museum of Teano.  The case serves as a good example into the minds of criminals who receive, possess, conceal, store, barter, and sell, not just antiquity, but any goods, wares, or merchandise where there is a willing buyer willing to look the other way.

Following months of observation and chasing leads on various burglaries at private residences and shops, the Teano carabinieri conducted a series of wire taps and reviewed CCTV footage related to various burglaries.  This in turn lead them to execute search warrants which uncovered what appears to be a well structured group of organized criminals who moved objects via fences working in the archaeological sector who had a supply of buyers willing to turn a blind eye to the illicit origin of the pieces they purchased. 

During the July sting operation, authorities recovered and sequestered more than 200 historical objects; antiquities which initial examination appears to date from from as early as the 9th and 8th Century BCE to as late as the 1st and 2nd century CE. Law enforcement has estimated the value of the seizure to have a combined value of €500,000.00 on the illicit market. 

The objects  brought into police custody include various sculptures in terracotta, ivory carvings, marble architectural elements, terracotta amphorae, as well as Bucchero pottery, common in pre-Roman Italy.  The team also had a stash of votive statues, and various metal and stone objects, buckles, brooches and earrings.  Interestingly, authorities also seized stolen objects not of an archaeological nature.  This shows that the ring of thieves and fences, did not restrict their dealings to stolen goods solely from antiquity. 

video

Earlier, in March of this year, a well-respected surgeon, Domenico Bova from nearby Sessa Aurunca and Gerardo Mastrostefano, an attorney from the same town as this weeks arrests, were investigated for their own related involvement to this offence and receiving stolen archaeological goods after 33 ancient finds were confiscated from their individual residences. Along with them an unnamed fence was reportedly involved as the ring's middleman.  The investigation into these prior individuals coupled with this week's formal charging of four others seem to lend credibility that the zone continues to have weaknesses that in the past have made it well adapted to the trafficking of culture.

In January 2014 an ex capo and former Camorrista of the Casalesi clan turned justice informant, Carmine Schiavone, stated that the Camorra had infiltrated the cities of Teano, Vairano, Caianello and other areas in Alto Caserta.   Schiavone, prior to his death was a former member of the Casalesi clan from Casal di Principe in the province of Caserta between Naples and Salerno and a cousin of former Camorra superboss Francesco Schiavone.  Heavily entrenched in the clan's business, he could be considered a person well informed as to the illicit activities in the region.

Is this summer's heritage crime case localized to one small group of organized bandits or part of something more sinister?







February 7, 2015

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part I

2015 has barely started and antiquities traffickers have begun making headlines in multiple countries.  In this three part series, ARCA will explore three current trafficking cases in detail to underscore that the ownership and commodification of the past continues. 

Part I - Operation Aureus - Bulgaria's Blues

On January 30th the State Agency for National Security (DANS) in Bulgaria reported that it had conducted two significant trafficking investigations into illegally circulated ancient and medieval objects and coins.  The two-month long probe started November 26, 2014 and ran until January 26, 2015 during which time DANS officers conducted thirty-six searches in eleven cities seizing a total of 2,289 objects protected by Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act.  The Act encompasses intangible and tangible immovable and movable heritage as an aggregate of cultural values which bear historical memory and national identity and have their own academic or cultural value.   SANS reported that they detained several individuals for their participation in an organized criminal group trafficking in antiquities but their names have not been currently been released to the public, citing the ongoing nature of the ongoing investigation.

Google Maps Looters

Google Maps Looters
From an ancient world perspective, Bulgaria has some of the richest archaeological sites in Europe.  From an economic perspective, regions such as Severozapaden, have some of the lowest-ranked economies in Bulgaria and the European Union.  That makes archaeologically rich areas, like Ratiaria, which is located on the Danube River, near the modern day city of Archar, in the Vidin District of Northwest Bulgaria particularly vulnerable.  With unemployment high and limited work possibilities since the fall of Communism, its not surprising that subsistence looters have treated the site as their own personal Automatic Antiquities Machine.  The territory has been so heavily looted in the past twenty years that even a Google Street View car managed to snap shots of a local looting crew while mapping area roads.

Working with shovels and metal detectors, looters generally make little, often passing their finds on to local middlemen dealers, like this one arrested in Ruptsi, Bulgaria in in 2011. Hiding in plane sight,  the business man was known among the locals and among treasure hunters as an active dealer in cultural goods in the region and was brazen enough to keep a storage of heavier items in his garden.

Where There are Looters there are Buyers and Not all Roads Lead to Rome

While the number of items seized in this 2015 Bulgarian investigation is distressingly large, the types of objects confiscated are all too familiar to art police who's investigative work revolves around combating heritage looting and smuggling.  To those who examine heritage trafficking in search of patterns there are also a few interesting points to consider.

The Bulgarian investigators seized everything from pottery and figurines, bronze and precious metal, jewellery of all types, ancient and medieval seals, religious crosses and icons, pieces of marble, and even Thracian weapons and horse-riding decorations. The objects have common denominators: they were, for the most part, easy to traffic because of their small size and they were the types of objects buyers willingly purchase, and with increasing frequency via online auction sites. 

Whether or not these items were destined for sites similar to eBay would be a hypothesis that hasn't be proven, but what we can underscore is that there is an ongoing supply market furnishing ancient objects for online transactions.  Platforms like eBay, with millions of auctions annually, are difficult for law enforcement to police, but easy sites for traffickers to navigate to connect with potential buyers internationally. The seller can be relatively anonymous and as their ratings are built on successful sales with satisfied customers, shady dealers can add or drop seller profiles to masquerade as being ethically legitimate.

Who is their preferred buyer?  

The individual who is willing to purchase heritage objects from anonymous suppliers.  The novice collector or aficionado who is not worried about owning objects which might turn out to be fake or might not have a pristine collection history that explains the context of the item, where it has originated from or who has been its custodian up until the point of sale.  For the purpose of this article ARCA has highlighted three current online auctions with similar Bulgarian items to those seized during the Aureus investigation.

Auction I lists a purported 9th century BC Ancient Bronze Thracian Fibula. The object was being offered by a seller in Bulgaria but listed nothing in the way of collection history as was absent in most of the auctions we viewed.  Provenance isn't something auction participants seem to require in order to consider an item attractive for purchase.

Auction II claims to be of a rare iron Thracian battle weapon, CIRCA IV-Ic. B.C. This  auctioneer is reportedly UK-based, applying a layer of legitimacy, but the item's auction detail states the object will be shipped to the buyer "from Eastern Europe".  Again there is no collection history and the buyer is far removed from the trafficker.
Auction III lists an object on sale described as an Ancient Thracian Honrseman Bronze Figure. This auction item has purportedly travelled a long way and is now being sold by a Canadian antique trader, again without benefit of a collection history indicating how it made its way to North America. The seller does not appear to be a novice, and states he has been in the trading business since 1970.

Interesting Observations

During the Bulgarian DANS investigation law enforcement officers also seized metal detectors and specific geophysical detecting instruments used to determination of the exact position and depth of objects while still in the ground thus showing that these devices are not used exclusively by law-abiding recreationists willing to abide by established laws.

Like with Italy's Gianfranco Becchina case, officers confiscated binders with multiple photos, auction house catalogs and invoices indicating that the scale of items being sold was a fluid enterprise level operation and not a casual one-off sale. 

Landscapes of looted terrain in Bulgaria have a similar moonscape pattern to those we have seen repeatedly in satellite imagery in Syria and Iraq.  This should be highlighted as proof that large-scale antiquities looting is not solely a funding source for criminal groups such as ISIS in conflict zones but also a source for revenue streams in economically challenging areas with a high rate of under or unemployement.  In this Google Street View image one can see an example of the looting pits that cover large swaths of Bulgaria terrain as well as a brazen group of looters working in broad daylight as an organized team.
 
In addition to searching workshops, DANS agents undertook an evaluation of Bulgaria's largest private museum in search of irregularities. The businessman who owns this vast collection was listed in law enforcement press releases using his initials, "VB".   Bulgarian press have indicated that the initials represent millionaire Vasil Bozhkov who is known to have a vast collection of Roman, Greek and Thracian works of art and who's coin collection is listed as one of the most extensive in the country. Bozhkov is also the founder of The Thrace Foundation an organization active in heritage-based events.

Previously, in January 2009, Petar Kostadinov published an article reporting that Vassil Bozhkov and Bulgarian prosecutor Kamen Mihov were alleged to have been involved in government-level corruption  plot devised to prevent the extradition of international art dealer Ali Abou’Taam to Egypt on antiquities trafficking charges.

The allegations presented in the newspaper article cited an email published by Dutch private art investigator Arthur Brand to the Museum Security Network mailing-list.  A representative of Phoenix Ancient Art replied to David Gill's Looting Matters blog with this letter relating to the detention of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.  No mention of Mr. Bozhkov's relationship with the art dealer was made.

Eight months later, a diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in Sofia, dated September 11, 2009, released first via WikiLeaks and later republished by the Sofia News Agency Novelite indicated that Bozhkov has been long suspected of having ties to organized crime.

On January 14, 2015 the US ambassador to Bulgaria Marcie B. Ries and Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Petar Stoyanovich signed a memorandum of understanding at the National History Museum in Boyana on the outskirts of Sofia.  This US/Bulgarian MOU calls for the protection of cultural heritage and is designed to prevent the illicit trade of Bulgarian cultural heritage items into the United states and to allow the return of said items to Bulgaria of any such item confiscated. 

ARCA will continue to follow this case as details on the investigation are released.

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA











(Photos: dans.bg)
References Used in this Article

http://www.all-sa.com/GaleriasCataluna.html

http://html.ancientegyptonline.org/spain-recovers-egyptian-artifacts-in-smuggling-ring/

http://archaeology.archbg.net/

http://www.elmundo.es/cultura/2015/01/28/54c8d1f5e2704e4e0c8b457f.html

https://www.europol.europa.eu/content/european-police-arrest-35-and-recover-thousands-stolen-cultural-artefacts

https://frognews.bg/news_85185/DANS-pogna-V-B-proveriavat-antichnata-mu-kolektsiia/

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Colonia+Ulpia+Ratiaria/@43.5557251,24.675708,9z

http://www.guardiacivil.es/ca/prensa/noticias/5219.html

http://www.lavanguardia.com/sucesos/20150128/54425193062/desmantelada-banda-arte-egipcio-ilegal.html

http://lootingmatters.blogspot.it/2009/01/sofia-detention-comment-from-phoenix.html

http://m.novinite.com/articles/162960/Bulgaria+Busts+Int%27l+Antiquities+Trafficking+Ring

http://www.novinite.com/articles/130391/WikiLeaks%3A+US+CDA+Report+on+Top+Bulgarian+Criminals#sthash.1qrWNiES.dpuf

http://www.museum-security.org/2009/01/bulgarian-prosecutor-kamen-mihov-and-bulgarian-millionaire-and-art-collector-vassil-bozhkov-were-alleged-to-have-been-involved-in-an-elaborate-scheme-to-let-international-art-dealer-ali-aboutaam-esc/

http://www.museum-security.org/2009/01/press-release-the-continuing-story-about-art-dealer-ali-abou%E2%80%99taam-can-justice-be-bought-in-bulgaria/

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/264380100_Pegman_caught_looters_in_the_act!_How_digital_media_can_help_raising_awareness_of_looting_and_destruction_of_archaeological_sites._The_example_of_Ratiaria._The_European_Archaeologist._Issue_41_Summer_2014_25-27

http://sofiaecho.com/2009/01/21/666138_bulgarian-prosecutor-art-collector-conspired-to-free-controversial-art-dealer-journalist-alleges

http://sofiaglobe.com/2015/01/30/bulgaria-busts-international-antiquities-trafficking-ring/

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/archaeology-in-crisis-bulgaria-plagued-by-grave-robbers-a-524976.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EBay

January 26, 2015

Policeman, Antiquities Smuggler, Black Market Cigarette Bootlegger, Arms Trafficker, Terrorist: A Snapshot of the Many Faces of One, Greek, Organized Crime Cell


Investigating organized crime links with art crimes components is complicated. Sometimes researchers are able to draw detailed maps of criminal enterprise that fuels the illicit art and antiquities trade and other times investigations lead us down windy roads to nowhere, or at least to places where gathering further evidence is not likely and possibly dangerous.

Earlier this month Greek news bureaus hit the wires reporting on a series of startling arrests, some involving suspects who liked to mix a little art and culture with their organized crime activities.

Image Credit - Yahoo News
On Saturday, January 3, 2015 Greece’s anti-terrorism unit captured Christodoulos Xiros; an on-the-run associate of the once-powerful and ultra-violent 17N group (Greek: Επαναστατική Οργάνωση 17 Νοέμβρη ).  Xiros had walked away from his prison sentence in January 2014 while on furlough visiting his family during the Christmas holidays.

Tracked to the town of Anavyssos in southeast of Athens, Christodoulos Xiros had changed his appearance, let his hair grow out and dyed it blonde.  But instead of lying low and enjoying his freedom while on the lam, the escapee chose to taunt Greek authorities; releasing ominous statements that implied he intended to pick up where he left off before his original incarceration for murder began.

Less than one month into his escape, Xiros submitted a long-winded manifesto along with a four-minute video to the website Independent Media Center. His untraceable statements, posted online at Indymedia/IMC were laced with violent innuendo alongside governmental and civil rights complaints. 

Speaking in front of images of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, two heroes of Greece's war of independence and a communist World War II resistance fighter, Xiros promised to wage war against those he believed were responsible for the destruction of Greece.  He vowed to “fight to the bitter end" and went so far as to dedicate lyrics from a song by V. Papakostantinou called 'Karaiskakis' emphasizing the phrase “When I return I will f**k you up.”

Image Credit: protothema.gr
Police Chief Dimitris Tsaknakis informed the press that Greek authorities had been searching for Christodoulos Xiros in and around the Athens’ suburbs for three months.  Investigators traced him via informant tips relayed to police, possibly in hopes of receiving part of the reward money being offered for information leading to his capture and arrest.

These tips, along with information gleaned from intercepted phone calls and solid gumshoe policing helped track the fugitive and set the stage for his organized apprehension.  Xiros had been hiding in relatively plain sight, going by the name “Manolis”.

At the time of his recapture, he was armed with a fully loaded Belgian or Hungarian-constructed Browning P35 9mm pistol.  News agencies reported that the gun’s serial number and make were scratched out, an action that impeded its traceability.

Image Credit: http://mikrometoxos.gr
A search of the house where he had been holed up contained an extensive cache of weaponry.  Law enforcement authorities inventoried assault rifles, Magtech 9mm ammunition, a rocket-propelled launcher, RPGs, grenades, six kilograms of explosive-making materials and a plethora of parts used for the manufacture of explosive devices including fuse wire, detonators and ignition wicks.

For a complete list of the evidence seized, please click here.
Image Credit: http://mikrometoxos.gr

After examining the evidence confiscated from the house in Anavyssos, Public Safety Minister, Vassilis Kikilias told reporters "Greek police prevented a major attack against the heart of the Greek prison system."  It seems that alongside the weaponry, police had found a well-developed diagram of the Korydallos prison complex.  Authorities believe that in stockpiling arms, Christodoulos Xiros was preparing for an armed assault and possible break-out on the western Athens prison, most likely to occur during Greece’s recent lead-up to the election that was held this weekend.

As a maximum-security facility, Korydallos Prison Complex has a notorious reputation.  In addition to housing other 17N convicts, it’s also has had its share of movie-worthy prison escapes.  Not only did Christodoulos Xiros vanish while on furlough but inmate/kidnapper Vasilis Paleokostas escaped twice, each time using a hijacked helicopter, first in June 2006 and again in February 2009.  During the second breakout a nearby resident captured the get-away chopper on amateur video. The grainy footage on this film shows the helicopter rising from the prison grounds and shots can be heard firing in the background while the amateur video maker comments.


Korydallos prison is also an over-crowded penal facility that has had substantial civil rights issues, many of which Christodoulos Xiros written manifesto outlined in Robin Hood-esque detail. Plagued by riots, overcrowding, poor health and sanitation conditions and a purported thriving black economy, the prison facility has been criticized not only by its convicts, but by Amnesty International and human rights bodies such as the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture. On occasion things have been so bad that inmates have staged hunger and medicine strikes to demand better living conditions and more immediate access to medical care.

But before Christodoulos Xiros, became a murdering guerrilla anarchist he was once a musical instrument maker and lived on the Aegean island of Ikaria.  Born to a retired priest, Triantafyllos Xiros, and his wife Moschoula, three of their ten children would later be condemned for participation in the 17 November group: Christodoulos, Savvas, and Vasilis.

Savvas Xiros was a painter of Greek religious icons.  He came to the attention of police following a botched bombing attack on June 29, 2002.  Whether from faulty fusing or poor execution, the IED he was handling detonated prematurely.  The explosion blinded him in one eye and caused partial vision loss in the other, blew off three fingers from his right hand, burst an eardrum and collapsed one of his lungs.  In total, he would spend 65 days at the Evangelismos Hospital in Athens recuperating from his debilitating injuries.
Savvas (L) and Vasilis (R) Xiros - Image Credit http://www.tovima.gr

Unconscious for four days, when Savvas Xiros came to he started cooperating with authorities, possibly encouraged by Greece’s rulings that enabled terrorists to receive lighter prison sentences in return for cooperation.  Later he would recant his statements and imply that his confession was made under extreme duress, while under the influence of psychotropic drugs or "truth serums" administered without his consent.  No evidence has been presented which collaborates this allegation, nor his later claims that prison inmates at Korydallos are routinely administered chemical restraints for non-therapeutic reasons.

Whether or not his confessions were self-preserving or influenced by state persuasion, Savvas Xiros’ testimony proved pivotal in Greece’s case against 17N and in dismantling the organized crime group. His testimony detailed the history of the cell from its nascent birth in 1975 as a Marxist-leaning domestic terrorism organization to its fateful decision to murder British defense attaché, Brigadier Stephen Saunders June 8, 2000.

As a result of Savvas Xiros’ testimony and the testimony of others, including his own brother, Christodoulos Xiros, ten members of 17N would be convicted for their rolls in 23 murders and sent to prison.   Prior to his escape from justice, Christodoulos Xiros was serving six life terms, plus 25 years. Savvas received five life sentences plus 25 years for his own role in 5 assassinations and Vasilis Xiros, the youngest of the three siblings, was condemned to 25 years for simple collusion to assassinate.

But this article’s publication in in ARCA’s blog is not solely to outline the life-cycle of one of Greece’s grimmest terrorist groups. Its purpose is to illustrate that organized criminal enterprise has many diverse elements and sometimes significantly and sometimes casually art crime plays its own part.

Theocharis Chrysakis -Image Credit - http://www.telegrafi.com
Following Christodoulos Xiros capture, on January 3, 2015 police have begun identifying additional co-conspirators.  One has been listed as a 37-year-old Albanian who posed as a Coast Guard officer using the pseudonym “Theocharis Chrysakis” or "Hari Koka". Police have indicated that this accomplice had prior arrest records for gun and narcotics possession.  There has also been speculation that Xiros’ stash of weapons and explosives may have been acquired via Greek criminals with Albanian supplier connections, possibly affiliated with this ally.

Christos Patoucheas - Image Credit - http://www.ethnos.gr
A second accomplice has been reported to be a 54-year-old former law enforcement officer.  Greek news wire reports have separately listed the individual as “unnamed” “Christos P” and “Christos Patoucheas” describing him as an ex police officer, dismissed from the EKAM, Special Counter-Terrorist Unit of the Hellenic Police twelve years ago.

The reason for his dismissal: involvement in antiquities smuggling and links to extortion rackets.  Patoucheas also seems to be involved in a functioning extortion ring operating from within the 6th wing of Korydallos prison which allegedly orchestrated additional bombings.

As abettors to Christodoulos Xiros these men now face graver charges than simple gun possession and antiquities trafficking.   Each can be charged as a member of a terrorist organization, as well as with contributing to the manufacturing, supply and possession of common explosives and bombs.  All of these offenses can be tried under Greece’s Anti-Terrorism Act.

But despite the successes of preventing further armed attacks and the recapture of a fugitive from justice, many questions remain regarding this organized crime group.

How is it that prison authorities felt it appropriate to grant furlough to a convicted terrorist despite his direct and indirect involvement in the deaths of 23 people?  How long has Christodoulos Xiros had this relationship with the former officer of Greece’s EKAM?  What are the details of this accomplice’s prior involvement in antiquities smuggling and extortion and is there any correlation between Accomplice One's Albanian arms channels and Accomplice Two's earlier involvement in art trafficking?

But before any of our readers jumps to premature conclusions, I am not implying that Christodoulos Xiros’ organization was in any way funded by antiquities smuggling.  None of my research, in looking for antiquities smuggling connections to this escapee or his associates has uncovered evidence that would substantiate such a claim. Given the more lucrative profitability of extortion and arms and cigarette trafficking, it would also seem superfluous at best as a potential revenue stream to fund Greek terrorism.

My point is merely to underscore, in a thought provoking way, the complexity of criminal behavior and that traffickers, especially art traffickers, are not always tie-wearing antiquities dealers with glossy Geneva free ports and warehouses.

Some art criminals are simply opportunistic criminals. They are incentivized to smuggle whatever illicit commodity has a willing buyer.  The type of “merchandise” isn’t important.  The contraband could be art and antiquities, or drugs and weaponry.  The sole criterion is that the enterprising criminal has access to a willing buyer and a steady supply stream of merchandise that supports his market’s demand.

I mention this because I think it is important, when examining organized crime and terrorism and its potential connection to antiquities smuggling, that researchers not to fall into the trap of feeding the media’s insatiable desire to see actuarial percentages that calculate the risk, size, percentage, threat, motivation or impact of a specific subset of organized crime, be it terrorism, arms trafficking, cigarette bootlegging or antiquities looting.  When we do, we allow the media to skim over the complexity of the subject in exchange for scary headlines that superficially skim the surface and are often based on estimates.

By the same toke art crime researchers should be more comfortable with admitting to journalists “I can’t answer that” or "there is not enough evidence to confirm links between art smuggling and terrorism" in cases like the Xiros investigation, when there is not enough proof available to satisfy the hypothesis.   In most cases, the mere mention of the words ‘organized crime’ and the circumstances of real life cases, as complex as this Greek terrorism cell, already have sufficiently powerful details on which journalists can draw readership without the need for supposition.

For those that want to take a closer look at organized crime and the difficult problem of assessing its scope, I suggest starting with this 2004 academic article.  Produced by criminologists, it gives readers a far greater understanding of the complexity of quantifying organized criminal behavior than I can within the scope of this already overly-long blog post.   The article also sadly underscores that despite having been written more than ten years ago, we are still wrestling with the same problems where organized crime information gathering is concerned.

The sad truth is that even today conclusions are too-often drawn based on too few cases and estimates rather than harder-to-actually-substantiate data giving the media tantalizing conjecture rather than providing much in the way of concrete evidence regarding a specific subset of criminal enterprise.

Part of the reason for this is that researching the mechanisms behind organized crime and any illicit trafficking market is a potentially risky endeavor. Global Initiative estimates that 35% of the journalists killed in the last ten years were reporting on organized crime or corruption.  And no matter how firmly experts researching organized crime disclaim unrealistic estimates or over-reaching assumptions it will always be, at best, an imprecise science by its very nature.

Measuring something as complex and elusive as organized crime, or specifically organized crime with art-related offenses would require law enforcement to develop a conceptual and theoretical framework that permits the police to gather data on and then measure the types of art crimes in a more meaningful way.

Unfortunately we aren't there yet, despite what some media headlines tell you.

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA


References used in this article: 
http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/greece?page=14
https://athens.indymedia.org/post/1512022/
http://www.cpt.coe.int/documents/grc/2011-10-inf-eng.htm
http://en.protothema.gr/counter-terrorism-police-investigates-more-suspected-accomplices-of-xiros/
http://en.protothema.gr/public-order-minister-v-kikilias-gives-details-on-the-capture-of-terrorist-c-xiros-photos/
http://www.ethnos.gr/article.asp?catid=22768&subid=2&pubid=63369134
http://www.globalinitiative.net/programs/drugs/reporting-on-organized-crime/
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1683&dat=20020720&id=ZqkaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=PUUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6721,6856359
http://www.grreporter.info/en/police_expect_largescale_terrorist_attack/10589
Inside Greek Terrorism, by George Kassimeris, Oxford University Press (October 1, 2013)
http://www.kathimerini.gr/799330/article/epikairothta/ellada/plhroforiodoths-edwse-ton-3hro
http://mikrometoxos.gr/?p=4991
http://www.newsweek.com/christodoulos-xiros-greek-marxist-guerrilla-arrested-296458
Organized Crime, Corruption and Crime Prevention, Editors: Stefano Caneppele and Francesco Calderoni
Race Against Terror, By Nicholas Gage, Vanity Fair, Jan 2007 Issue 557, p64, 9p
http://www.telegrafi.com/lajme/ky-eshte-shqiptari-qe-bashkepunonte-me-terroristin-grek-foto-80-8897.html
The Faces of Terrorism: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, edited by David Canter
http://www.thetoc.gr/eng/news/article/the-terrorists-next-door
‘Threats and Phantoms of Organised Crime, Corruption and Terrorism’ (Critical European Perspectives), June 1, 2004 by Petrus C. Van Duyne (Author, Editor), Matjaz Jager (Editor), Klaus Von Lampe (Editor), James L. Newell (Editor)
http://www.tovima.gr/en/article/?aid=664944
http://www.tovima.gr/relatedarticles/article/?aid=155710
http://www.veth.gov.gr/index.php?MDL=pages&Branch=N_N0000000100_N0000002123_N0000002173_S0851703103






May 19, 2012

BBC News reports Italian police seize 100 artworks from man convicted of altering slot machines in bars and cafes

Italian police seized 100 artworks, including an original painting by Salvador Dali, as part of an asset forfeiture of more than 330 million euros from a reputed Mafia member convicted last year of collecting millions of dollars in illegal profits from tampering with slot machines in Italy, reported Alan Johnston from Rome for BBC News.

The art will now belong to Italy.

The convict, associated with organized crime out of Calabria, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and had to give up more than 200 properties in Rome, Milan and Paris.


February 3, 2011

Profile: ARCA Lecturer Edgar Tijhuis on Transnational Crime, Organized Crime and Illicit Art and Antiquities


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Edgar Tijhuis, lawyer and assistant-professor of Criminology at the VU University in Amsterdam, in The Netherlands, will return to Amelia for the third year to teach “Criminology, Art, and Transnational Organized Crime” for ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Property Protection Studies.

Tijhuis, the author of Transnational Crime and the Interface between Legal and Illegal Actors – The Case of the Illicit Art and Antiquities Trade (Nijmegen, Wolf Legal Publishers, 2006), published a chapter in Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger, 2009), “Who Is Stealing All Those Paintings?” He is also associated with the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement in Amsterdam.

ARCA blog: Professor Tijhuis, your essay in Art & Crime makes the point, as Noah Charney wrote in a long footnote, “that most experts are going on hearsay from police about Organized Crime and art crime, with relatively little empirical data and evidence beyond the word of police, undercover agents, and criminals.” Since publishing this article in 2009, do you think that anything had changed? Have you seen any data that would support the level of activity of Organized Crime in the illicit and antiquities trade?
Professor Tijhuis: It is difficult to answer this question briefly. To be sure, I did not mean to say that “organized crime” is not involved in crimes related to art. The point is that general claims of this involvement do not seem to be based on firm empirical data. In fact, “art crime” consists of all kinds of rather different types of (criminal) activity, in uncountable places around the world. With some specific types of art crime, one can clearly see an “organized” character, with others there does not seem to be any organization at all and with many we simply do not know or we see all kind of different ways of organizing these crimes. To make it even more complex, an ongoing debate among criminologists focuses on the whole concept of “organized crime”. Do we actually focus on actors (organizations) or activities?
At this moment different studies try to shed light on these topics. Among others, Noah Charney and myself are involved in these studies and I hope they will enhance our knowledge.
ARCA blog: As a practical point, do you think that Organized Crime uses stolen art and antiquities in part of the trade on illegal drug and arms activities? Are you aware of any data that ties stolen art or antiquities to any other illegal activities supported by Organized Crime networks?
Professor Tijhuis: Again, we are dealing with a rather broad category of crimes that take place all around the world. I am not aware of data that systematically connects art crimes with other illegal activities. However, one can find examples of connections with other crimes in specific places around the world.
ARCA blog: What is the difference between transnational crime and Organized Crime and how does this influence the way you teach your course for ARCA?
Professor Tijhuis: First of all, transnational crime clearly involves cross-border types of crime. At the same time, it does not necessarily involve all kind of criminal organizations but may involve individuals or constantly changing networks of people involved in specific crimes. The different terms are related to the different perspectives on crime that were mentioned earlier. When one takes actors as the starting point of studies, one will use the terms “organized crime” or “transnational organized crime”. Transnational crime, on the contrary, is sometimes used when one takes (illicit) activities as starting point.
ARCA blog: What is your current area of focus as related to art crime?
Professor Tijhuis: Currently I'm looking at several specific topics. One of them is “profiling”. We look at ways to profile art crimes, either geographically or psychological. Furthermore, together with Noah Charney, I am working on an article on Organized Crime and Art Crime, which should help to clarify things for readers and students alike, and which will combine our two approaches. We very much enjoy working together, and this is the first of what we hope will be several collaborative future projects.
ARCA blog: Will you be doing anything differently in your class this year?
Professor Tijhuis: Each year I try to add new elements and change the material. This year will probably have somewhat less purely criminological theory and more theory on organized crime and white- collar crime. Furthermore, recent literature and cases always provide wonderful new material.

August 24, 2010

ARCA featured in La Repubblica

ARCA was featured in an article in Italy's leading national newspaper, La Repubblica, on 23 August 2010. The article mentioned some of the statistics on art crime in Italy kept by the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. The Carabinieri TPC, as it is known, is the world's oldest and strongest art police unit, having been founded in 1969, and with a 300-plus strong force. They run the world's largest database on stolen art, containing over 3 million items, and have by far the best recovery rate of any of the world's police. In 2009 alone the Carabinieri TPC reported 13,219 artworks stolen in Italy (a significant decrease from the approximately 30,000 objects reported stolen as recently as 2001). In 2009 the TPC questioned 1220 people suspected of involvement in art crime, arrested 45, and recovered an astounding 19,043 stolen artworks.

The Carabinieri TPC were honored with the 2009 ARCA Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art, and were featured in a BBC Radio Four documentary which ran earlier this summer. In that documentary the Carabinieri reiterated that art crime is linked to the drug and arms trades and even terrorism, and highlighted the fact that most art crime involves organized crime, and therefore is something to be taken very seriously indeed.

December 8, 2009

US Justice Department & Central Bureau of Interpol Rate Art Crime Third Highest-Grossing Criminal Trade and Links It To Organized Crime

Statistics on art crime are unfortunately few and generally inaccurate. The reasons for this are detailed in ARCA's book, Art & Crime, and come down to a variety of factors.
  1. At a local level, most police are told to file stolen art with general stolen goods. This means that art thefts are lost among stolen property files and only those unusual or far-sighted police who set art thefts aside for filing, or choose to send files on to Interpol or national art police will be filed as art thefts, and can therefore be studied and constitute a portion of the national statistics.
  2. The legitimate market dollar value of artworks is a nebulous concept. One day a painting could be worth one million, another day two, another day seven-hundred thousand. It all depends on the stock market, the perceived demand of the art market for the object in question, the whims of a handful of individual collectors and museums. So to say that an artwork is worth X amount of money is untrue--it can only be stated that at one time this artwork, or a similar one, sold for X amount of money, and that this is the current best guess as to its value. Therefore it is useful only in terms of situating art crime at a general hierarchical level, and getting people to take it seriously.
  3. We know that reported art crimes represent only a fraction of the total number, the tip of the iceberg. Antiquities looted from the earth or the sea will only be discovered by happenstance, should an archaeologist or policeman happen upon a looted tomb in the wilderness, for instance. Even then, there is no way of knowing what was in the tomb to begin with, which is now stolen. Much fine art theft goes unreported, by museums which do not want to show their insecurity, by collectors who did not declare all of their collection to avoid luxury tax, by libraries or churches or archives that might not realize what is missing.
While the study of art crime is, necessarily, at this point more anecdotal than scientific, due to the poor, incomplete, and often inaccessible statistics, the major police forces agree on the extent and severity of art crime, and its links to Organized Crime, which make it a crime to take very seriously, indeed.

In ARCA's many projects and conferences, those with whom we have worked have conveyed the fact that art crime is the third-highest-grossing criminal trade, behind only drugs and arms, and have underlined with countless examples the links with Organized Crime since 1960. Organized Crime, which includes but is not limited to major Mafias (it also includes any group of three or more individuals working together in a diverse array of criminal enterprises for long-term collective goals), is responsible for some activity in the life of the crime. This is least often the theft or looting itself, which is done by mercenary burglars or local tomb raiders. But syndicates have the international networks necessary to take stolen objects off the hands of the thieves, smuggle them abroad, launder them, and sell them on. Because of this, art crime funds all of Organized Crime's other activities, from the drug and arms trade to terrorism.

Individuals from the major world art police have quoted these facts repeatedly, as have art criminals, lawyers, security staff, criminologists and more. But it is difficult to find published, publicly available statements to back this up. For anyone looking for a good, reliable source to cite when quoting information about art crime as the third-highest-grossing criminal trade, and the involvement of Organized Crime, need look no further than the US Department of Justice and the US Central Bureau of Interpol:


Cultural Property Crimes Program
The annual dollar value of art and cultural property theft is exceeded only by the trafficking in illicit narcotics and arms. The illegal trade of works of art and cultural property is as dangerous as these crimes. The criminal networks that traffic in the illicit sale of Works of Art and Cultural Property are often times the same circles that deal in illegal drug, arms dealing, and other illegal transactions. It has also been found recently that many insurgent and terrorist groups fund their operations through the sales and trade of stolen Works of Art and Cultural Property.