Never miss a post! Enter your email address below to subscribe today.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Undersecretary Points to Antiquities Trafficking as a Source of ISIS Funding

David Cohen
Source: U.S. Treasury
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earns most of its cash from oil revenues, approximately $1 million per day. But the terror group also profits from crimes that include heritage trafficking.

"They lay waste to thousands of years of civilization in Iraq and Syria by looting and selling antiquities," David Cohen said today.

As the federal government's point-man in charge of uncovering and blocking financial support for terrorist groups, Under Secretary Cohen's insight on the topic should be given considerable weight. Since 2011, Attorney Cohen has served as Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the United States Department of the Treasury.

He made the remark about antiquities trafficking funding ISIS at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Conflict and the Heritage Trade: Rise in U.S. Imports of Middle East "Antiques" and "Collectors' Pieces" Raises Questions

American imports of art, collections and collectors' pieces, and antiques from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey increased sharply between 2011 and 2013, prompting questions about whether trafficked heritage has piggybacked onto the mainstream marketplace.

War, mass looting, and other grave threats to heritage greatly expand the risk that smuggled cultural contraband will slide into the stream of international commerce undetected. Because art and antiquities transactions often lack transparency or fail to undergo rigorous due diligence, examining published trade data is one way to potentially spot trafficked cultural material hiding under the cover of everyday imports.


One region that has witnessed grave threats to cultural heritage is the Middle East. The intelligence community and the academic community both report that antiquities trafficking has generated revenue for the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). More investigation needs to be conducted to measure the scope of the terror group's earnings activity, but the American Schools of Oriental Research and others have confirmed that archaeological site looting has been a wellspring for pillaged artifacts spilling out of Syria and Iraq, a result of both Syria's civil war and ISIS' sprawl. Spoils from the region reportedly have transited through the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Turkey. And in nearby Egypt, the country has suffered its own cultural heritage crisis amid unrest, prompting the nation to petition for an agreement with the United States that would help protect ancient archaeological and ethnological materials in jeopardy.

Given the cultural heritage emergency that has erupted in the Middle East, U.S. International Trade Commission figures documenting an upsurge in imports of Harmonized Tariff Schedule 97 goods from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey flag concerns about whether conflict antiquities have entered America's stream of commerce. HTS 97 is the customs classification for works of art, collectors' pieces and antiques.

Total American imports of HTS 97 goods from the five countries rapidly escalated from $51.1 million in 2011 to $95.2 million in 2013--an astonishing 86% rise. The across-the-board spike can be gleaned from the table below, which displays hefty individual percentage increases of cultural imports from each of the five countries.

HTS - 97: WORKS OF ART, COLLECTORS' PIECES AND ANTIQUES
Customs Value
U.S. Imports for Consumption

Country
2011
2012
2013
Percent Change
2012 - 2013

In Actual Dollars
Turkey
22,778,794
24,799,487
44,715,936
80.3%

Egypt
19,546,035
20,201,597
31,383,502
55.4%

Syria
4,553,364
4,759,212
11,148,782
134.3%

Iraq
2,871,141
780,688
4,625,057
492.4%

Lebanon
1,382,136
2,120,696
3,351,462
58.0%


Goods declared by importers to be antiques of an age exceeding 100 years (HTS 9706) or collections and collectors' pieces of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, historical, archaeological, numismatic and other interest (HTS 9705) made up large portions of the broader category of HTS 97 imports.*

For example, HTS 97 imports from Egypt totaling $34.1 million in 2013 largely derived from a combination of $19 million worth of objects labeled by importers as antiques over 100 years old and $11.5 million of goods labeled as collections and collectors' pieces.

HTS 97 imports from Syria totaling $11.1 million in 2013 almost entirely came from $11 million worth of goods classified as antiques.

Remarkable too is that 93% of the 2013 total of HTS 97 imports from Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria were declared to be antiques over 100 years old, begging the question of whether nearly $18 million worth of great grandmothers' rocking chairs and similar items were shipped to America or whether the imports may have been ancient archaeological artifacts misclassified as "antiques."

The table below illustrates, among other information, that commodities declared by importers to be antiques from Iraq and Syria rocketed skyward by 672% and 133%, respectively, from 2012 to 2013.

HTS - 9706: ANTIQUES OF AN AGE EXCEEDING ONE HUNDRED YEARS
Customs Value
U.S. Imports for Consumption


Country
2011
2012
2013
Percent Change
2012 - 2013

In Actual Dollars
Turkey
15,979,030
17,553,638
19,257,308
9.7%
Egypt
16,793,409
13,817,236
19,043,410
37.8%
Syria
4,141,235
4,714,962
11,000,869
133.3%
Iraq
2,832,384
585,682
4,523,126
672.3%
Lebanon
708,461
1,392,005
2,218,073
59.3%

Declared imports of collections and collectors' pieces of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, historical, archaeological, numismatic and other interest goods, meanwhile, grew from $8.9 million in 2011, to $10.8 million in 2012, and then to $19 million in 2013--the final amount constituting a 113% jump from 2011 through 2013. The table below breaks down the individual numbers that chart this ascent. What kinds of objects actually made up these "collections and collectors' pieces?

HTS - 9705: COLLECTIONS AND COLLECTORS' PIECES OF ZOOLOGICAL, BOTANICAL, MINERALOGICAL, HISTORICAL, ARCHAEOLOGICAL, NUMISMATIC OR OTHER INTEREST
Customs Value
U.S. Imports for Consumption

Country
2011
2012
2013
Percent Change
2012 - 2013

In Actual Dollars
Egypt
2,375,694
5,746,759
11,518,231
100.4%
Turkey
5,875,218
4,919,196
6,651,262
35.2%
Lebanon
241,345
82,365
597,982
626.0%
Syria
330,129
34,250
117,913
244.3%
Iraq
30,757
8,509
97,931
1,050.9%

Traffickers have imported cultural material into the U.S. in clever ways in the past, surreptitiously labeling Hindu idols as "handicrafts," affixing "Made in Thailand" stickers on ancient Ban Chiang pots to make them appear modern, or manipulating the description of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from Mongolia on customs documentation. That is why scrutinizing the art, collectors pieces, and antiques that underlie the customs data described above would go far toward confirming or dispelling the suspicion that smuggled ancient artifacts from the Mideast may have been embedded within America's conventional global trade.

Among the questions requiring answers are what kinds of objects were specifically imported, and why did imports of "antiques" and "collectors' pieces" skyrocket in many instances? Were the imports classified properly or improperly? Who were the importers of record, and where did they sell their merchandise? Who were the buyers? What can the customs forms reveal about the commodities' actual countries of origin and their transshipment locations?



Data source: U.S. International Trade Commission Interactive Trade DataWeb (USITC DataWeb), as compiled by the Commission from official data retrieved from the U.S. Bureau of the Census (accessed October 2014).


Copyright note: Although the data presented here is sourced from publicly available information, it has been carefully selected, coordinated, arranged, and analyzed so that it is subject to copyright as a compilation by CHL. The publication, retransmission, or broadcast of this compiled data is strictly prohibited without CHL's express consent.

Photo credit: Svilen Milev

________________
*Import data is reported to U.S. Customs and Border Protection by the owner, purchaser, or licensed broker of the consignee. They file the entry documents, not the customs officials who are unable to inspect and document every cargo shipment. So whether cultural commodities are properly classified as HTS 9705 archaeological material or HTS 9706 antiques is the responsibility of the importer. In fact whether imports are falsely classified so that they can be smuggled across the border or mistakenly classified because of a judgment error is a function of the importing party. The import classification process is a self-reporting system, part of a shared compliance program overseen by U.S. Customs that obliges the trade community to regulate itself and follow federal law. Shared compliance allows the U.S. to competitively engage the world in global commerce. But smugglers will try to exploit the gaps and loopholes.

By Rick St. Hilaire

Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.