Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cultural Heritage Trafficking Requires Deterrence

Police officers are good at tracking down and arresting criminals. Prosecutors are good at securing convictions, even in some of the most complex cases. So why aren't police and prosecutors routinely investigating and prosecuting cultural heritage traffickers?

HSI officials returned smuggled cultural artifacts to the Turkish government
during a ceremony held last week in New York City. Source: ICE
Last week Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) repatriated ancient arrowheads, coins, and jewelry to Turkey, which were smuggled into Newark International Airport in February 2013. The objects represented some of the "more than 7,150 artifacts [that] have been returned to 27 countries" since 2007, which HSI touted in a press release.

No arrests were announced. In fact, the number of criminals taken into custody over the years for heritage trafficking has been infinitesimally small. That may be why HSI does not regularly report the number of arrests or convictions resulting from its cultural property, art, and antiquities investigations.

The impact of HSI's "seize and send" policy is that criminal infrastructures are left intact--i.e. bank accounts, smuggling routes, transshipment points, warehouses, and the like--while looters, smugglers, fences, couriers, and other offenders are returned to their criminal enterprises without consequence.

Cultural heritage trafficking needs to be deterred. It is the job of police and prosecutors to apply the law to combat this criminal activity, holding accountable those who illegally import contraband heritage and methodically dismantling the frameworks that facilitate trafficking operations.

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