The World’s Biggest Illicit Industries

Nathan Vardi, 06.04.10, 12:02 PM ET
The $125 million theft of five paintings by artists like Picasso and Matisse from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in May caught the attention of the world. But compared with the total annual trade in illicit goods, the heist was small change.

According to estimates from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the business of buying and selling stolen art is about a $6 billion racket worldwide. Trade in illegal drugs, by contrast, is estimated to be in the neighborhood of maybe $300 billion, making it the world’s biggest illicit activity. The trafficking of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and other drugs has continued to frustrate the efforts of governments around the world. It has created a massive industry and political problem, financing violent groups like the Taliban and drug cartels that currently threaten the stability of important countries like Afghanistan and Mexico. The destabilizing effects of battling the drug trade can be seen most recently in Jamaica, where an entire nation has been swept up in violence as the government tried to seize drug lord Christopher Coke.

Full List: The World’s Biggest Illicit Industries

But it’s not the only criminal enterprise raking in billions of dollars a year. The world’s biggest illicit industries continue to grow by circumventing national laws and regulations, and taking advantage of new international networks and technologies. This dark side of globalization has generated huge profits and political instability. The exact size of these industries can be estimated only vaguely, but their scope and impact cannot be denied.


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2009 said the international trade in counterfeit and pirated goods increased to more than U.S. $250 billion, almost 2% of world trade, up from US$200 billion in 2007. The world is awash in fakes–from trademarks like Nike to copyrighted music and high-tech invention like pharmaceuticals or computer chips. The World Customs Organization guesses that counterfeiting accounts for 5% to 7% of global merchandise trade.

Oil Smuggling

Shell last year estimated that as much as 100,000 barrels of oil are smuggled out of Nigeria each day–at the time some $1.6 billion annually. In Mexico, Pemex estimates it loses $700 million annually to petro thieves who tap into its pipelines. Texas oil men have pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell stolen Mexican oil. Most of the pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia or in the Malacca Strait involve oil tankers that are ransomed. A Council on Foreign Relations report suggests such piracy costs between $1 billion and $16 billion.


There are some 600 billion cigarettes smuggled worldwide each year, a $30 billion illicit industry, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Cigarettes are the world’s most smuggled legal product. Much of this activity is a result of the vice taxes nations use to control the spread of addictive drugs that are legal. High taxation generates shadow markets in places ranging from Latin America to New York state.

Human Trafficking

Interpol says human trafficking and illicit migration is a $28 billion enterprise. This sad business, broadly speaking, can take the form of modern slavery, sexual exploitation, or organ harvesting, destroying the lives of its victims and enriching brutal criminal groups. The victims are often trapped and forced to work as prostitutes or migrant workers. This illegal trade in human beings is one of the fastest growing criminal activities globally, U.N. Special Rapporteur Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said recently.

Cargo Theft

Cargo theft is as much as a $30 billion problem annually, according the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which points out it can include anything moved by truck or plane–tailored suits, frozen shrimp, computer chips, toilet paper. These are often non-violent thefts of goods in transit, but they can include sophisticated methods that often involve surveillance. The U.S., Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, India and the U.K. are the countries most at risk for cargo theft globally, according to FreightWatch International.

Still, while the size and reach of global illicit industries can seem overwhelming, there are signs of hope. Law enforcement groups from around the world are learning to cooperate in the battle against international crime. Just this week seven people were arrested in Liberia in connection with a conspiracy to distribute more than $100 million of South American cocaine in Europe after the son of the president of Liberia worked undercover with U.S. drug agents.

New technologies and regulatory procedures are being employed to crack down on all sorts of crime: Software that tracks money laundering, product tags that are used to identify stolen products, surveillance devices that spot bad guys. “There is a major role the private sector can play,” says David Shillingford, founder of CargoNet and National Equipment Register, units of Verisk Analytics that build information databases of cargo and heavy equipment to solve and deter incidents of theft. “There is a recognition from private industry that they need to help themselves.”

June 5th, 2010

Posted In: articles

Historically challenged

For projects, worthiness is in the eye of the beholder Disputes over use of Community Preservation Act funds are growing
By Taryn Plumb
Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2010

In the 1920s, the ecclesiastical-style structure — red-tile roof, arched portico, and dozens of windows lined up like an assembly of discerning eyes — started out as a boys’ orphanage, a refuge for the unfortunate and the wayward.

After World War II, it was a gathering spot for swimming and youth baseball games that drew into dusk; later, it hosted a Catholic boys’ school. Then, in the 1970s, it became the town-operated John C. Page Elementary School.

Now this patchwork past has creaked open a door on an unexpected debate about its historic value: specifically, whether the near-85-year-old building is significant enough to justify a multimillion-dollar restoration partially funded through the town’s Community Preservation Act. Some officials and residents identify a rich past; others can’t quite pinpoint its importance to history, culture, architecture — or, more importantly, the town.

It seems like it should be simple: Either a building, based on age, engineering, or the stories it tells, is historic or it’s not.

But as more and more structures sag into maturity and funding for nearly everything becomes more precious, cities and towns may have to engage in a sacrificial game of history roulette, and battle for every dollar as they do — regardless of whether they have mechanisms like the Community Preservation Act at their disposal.

“I think it’s always pretty hard for historic buildings,’’ noted Bill Steelman of the Salem-based Essex National Heritage Commission, one of the few local entities offering grants for historical preservation.

And in a teeter-tottering economy like this, the effects can be tragic, said Wendy Nicholas, director of the northeast office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Some communities don’t have the money to maintain [properties], to make repairs, in some cases to keep them open.’’

And if they look around for outside help, they won’t find much.

Some grants are available for eligible nonprofits and municipalities through the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, and the Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund; locally, smaller amounts are doled out by the Essex National Heritage Commission. This year, the organization is offering 10 reimbursable matching grants of $2,500 — and slogging through 47 applicants to do so, according to Steelman. But that’s an improvement over last year, when cinched funding temporarily halted the program.

Clearly, it can be an aggressive fight for the endangered funding dollar — a fact that has even been exploited. Last year, the Partners in Preservation initiative sponsored an American Idol style competition, pitting historical sites around Massachusetts against each other for a shot at $100,000. (The historical idol? Hull’s beloved Paragon Carousel.)

In the end, “you can’t underestimate the power of a single dollar,’’ said Stephen DeMarco, chairman of the Rockport Historical Commission, adding that other revenue sources include fund-raising and soliciting private contributions.

With outside aid limited, some cities and towns are turning inward and adopting the Community Preservation Act. The program adds a surcharge to property taxes to build up an escrow account for historical preservation, open space and recreation, and affordable housing projects. The state, through a trust fund from a surcharge on Registry of Deeds filings, distributes some matching funds.

All told, 143 cities and towns have enacted it, according to Stuart Saginor, executive director of the state’s Community Preservation Coalition, which facilitates the program.

Still, even this program has been diminished. When it first launched in 2000, the state matched 100 percent of whatever cities and towns raised. Over the years, that’s steadily decreased to an average of about 40 percent.

Ultimately, preservation act distributions for historical projects are “fragments,’’ said Emily Wentworth, who administrates Newburyport’s CPA. Applicants typically put funding together in a piecemeal fashion, creatively pulling it in from various sources and returning for several rounds, she said.

So, as DeMarco said, applicants “really need to distill what their project is entitled to ask for.’’

To many communities, the Community Preservation Act is a lifeline. Historical sites are “key to preserving, so that future generations will know how we lived and why we did what we did. Otherwise, that’s lost forever,’’ said Edward DesJardins, chairman of Georgetown’s Historical Commission. “Without [the Community Preservation Act], I think it’d be a disaster, with these places crumbling and falling apart, and eventually just being demolished.’’

Which is a fear some have in West Newbury.

Recently residents and officials were trying to pay for an $8.2 million restoration to the circa-1926 Page School partially with CPA funds, which voters adopted with a 3 percent tax surcharge in 2007. Studies of the building have discovered significant roof and boiler issues, as well as other maladies.

However, the request was denied by the town’s Historical Commission because the majority of members felt there was a lack of connection between the town and the building through most of its existence, and also that there was very little of significance in the structure’s architecture and history.

In protest, West Newbury voters passed a nonbinding citizens petition at the recent annual Town Meeting declaring the Page School historically significant.

Many residents point to its noted architect, Edward T.P. Graham, its long history as an orphanage and school — first as an extension of Boston’s House of the Angel Guardian, then as Boys Haven, and later as Cardinal Cushing Academy — and the swimming, skating, and baseball games it shared with the community before the town purchased it in 1972.

“I cannot emphasize enough the abundant history of the building,’’ said resident Erin Rich, a parent with one child in the school and two others soon to follow.

The assertion is strongly refuted by commission member Dot Cavanaugh.

“I personally would . . . not like to have it demolished,’’ she wrote in a letter to selectmen explaining her decision. “But [I] cannot say that it is a candidate for historical consideration. In my opinion, [it] does not fit the criteria as an historic building.’’

In that case, then, what does make a building (or land) historically significant?

As DeMarco put it, “It can be any number of factors relative to time, place, people, and activities.’’

Typically, if a site is already on the state or national registers of historic places — which tally up an extensive 1.4 million buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects — they’re covered.

But, as Nicholas pointed out, “if it’s a local conversation, a local process, it may be up to interpretation.’’

Which is what happened in West Newbury. Through the Community Preservation Act, if a site isn’t on the register (or eligible to be), a historical commission ultimately makes the determination.

In that case, age is typically the first consideration — with significance varying anywhere from 50 to 100 years, depending on who’s discerning it. Beyond that, a building could be an exemplary example of a particular architectural style, the work of a significant designer or builder, DeMarco said, or perhaps just a well-preserved specimen.

As others noted, it could be a notable location in American history, a setting for a historic literary or artistic work, or somehow associated with a historic person.

Wentworth said that it can be a “pretty subjective, squishy process.’’

Newburyport, she said, has seen some questionable applications that have required more formal discussions, but she couldn’t recall any that had been rejected.

More likely, fragments of projects get dismissed, DeMarco said.

For example, at Rockport’s early 19th century Community House, a national register property, the CPA couldn’t cover landscape improvements, paving, or a motorized partition, DeMarco said, because they didn’t fit the historical aspect.

The preservation act did cover improvements to handicapped accessibility, fire protection and mechanical and electrical systems, interior finishes, and some structural improvements. The town ultimately ended up bonding CPA funding for the building for around $2 million.

All the debates aside, though, there is much more appreciation for historic buildings these days, Nicholas said, which could also be one reason funding is dwindling — there’s a higher demand.

“What we care about is so much broader than what we cared about in the ’70s,’’ she said.

Also, times like this, in some ways, can actually be positive for historic buildings — just take a look at Providence, Savannah, or Charleston, she said, where lack of demolition money led to urban renewal.

There’s also adaptive reuse, evident in many of the area’s old mill buildings, and tax credits encouraging private homeowners and builders to rehabilitate old buildings rather than erect McMansions.

Don’t expect the trend to reverse anytime soon.

“In 2050,’’ Nicholas said, “people will be looking at what we built in the ’80s, and say ‘that is really important.’ ’’

June 3rd, 2010

Posted In: articles

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April 22nd, 2010

Posted In: art theft, articles

By our art-crunch correspondents
Hanky-Panky Paulson and Banksy Bernanky

Damien Hirst, the wealthiest artist the world has ever known and a colossus of corporate finance, faces nationalization say City analysts.

As the financial meltdown edged ever closer to the core of the nuclear reactor that is the international banking system, there were mounting fears yesterday that Hirst – the diminutive giant of the global art economy – faces outright nationalization.

“It’s too early to say what might happen,” said a visibly shaken Treasury Secretary Ed Ballsup as he stood outside his office clutching a wrinkled donkey embryo fitted with swan’s wings. “When the investments of millions of collectors around the world look so treacherously close to vaporization, the Government may need to step in, as we did with Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley.”

The prospect of hundreds of billions of pounds worth of pickled livestock cluttering up the corridors of power sent MPs into a gloomy funk as the reality of the situation began to dawn.

City analysts were drawing comparisons this morning between the teetering self-certified ‘buy-to-let’ mortgage market upon which so much of Bradford and Bingley’s business was built, and the shaky foundations of the ‘buy-to-flip’ art investments made by millions of gullible collectors who saw crap contemporary art as an “asset class”.

Speaking from his wheelchair at Lumbago Heights, a Los Angeles residential care home for the elderly, presidential nominee John McCain, 108, told reporters, “Art is no more an asset class than Sarah’s arse,” referring to his vice-presidential nominee. “And believe me, her ass is class and an asset to my campaign.”

Hanky-Panky Banksy Bernanky

Artnose was founded in 2001 by journalist Percy Flarge to provide a more impartial and insightful news website for the art world.

contact Artnose

Percy Flarge
The Ostrich Farm
London SW16 2LU

October 13th, 2008

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March 2nd, 2008

Posted In: articles

Er soll Berlin das Stadtschloss nahebringen, im Beutekunst-Streit schlichten, 17 Museen leiten: Von Hermann Parzinger werden Wundertaten erwartet. (more…)

February 21st, 2008

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February 5th, 2008

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January 29th, 2008

Posted In: articles, Mailing list reports


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January 29th, 2008

Posted In: articles, Mailing list reports


The full 45 pp article by Kwame Opoku [], including photographs, is available at:

“The restitution of those cultural objects which our museums and collections, directly or indirectly, possess thanks to the colonial system and are now being demanded, must also not be postponed with cheap arguments and tricks.”Gert v. Paczensky and Herbert Ganslmayr, Nofretete will nach Hause. (1)

Head of Queen Mother-iyoba. Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin:

The full 45 pp article by Kwame Opoku [], including photographs, is available at:

The Benin Exhibition, Benin: Kings and Rituals. Court Arts from Nigeria goes to Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum from February 7 to May 25, 2008. The Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde, renamed Ethnologisches Museum as from 2000,was legally established on 12 December, 1873 largely due to the tireless efforts of Adolf Bastian (1826-1905), its first director who is considered by many as the founder of German Ethnology and who insisted on collecting cultural material from the peoples of Africa and Oceania who he thought would soon disappear due to contact with European civilization. (2) According to the catalogue of the exhibition, several German museums lent their Benin art works to the exhibition. (3) Alone, the list of German museums holding African cultural objects is impressive and shows the extent to which the former colonial power plundered the colonies for art works.It is not often remembered that the German museums have several art works from Africa and that Germany had been a colonial power on the Continent, having had under its control, Togo, Cameroon, German-East Africa (Tanganyika, Burundi and Ruanda) and German-South-West Africa (Namibia) until the end of the First World War. We leave aside the Brandenburger-Prussian colonies Gross Friederichsburg in Ghana, (1683-1718), Arguin, in Mauritania, (1685-1721). It should also be remembered that colonialist ideology in Germany did not start with Germany’s possession of colonies nor did it end with Germany’s loss of colonies after the First World War.

Many people do not even seem to recall that the infamous imperialist meeting that divided Africa among the colonizing powers, the Berlin Conference of 1884, took place in the then and now capital of Germany, Berlin under the chairmanship of Bismarck, the chancellor (“Reichskanzler”). Moreover, German ethnologists and archaeologists had been very active in Africa, the most famous being Leo Frobenius (1873-1938)who collected several thousands of artefacts from the Continent and made a contribution to the Africa collection of the Berlin Ethnologisches Museum. He considered forced labour and corporal punishment in the German colonies as necessary and fair. Leopold Senghor and Aimé Césaire seemed to have derived some inspiration for their negritude from an incomplete reading of his works but a thorough study of his works reveals his deep-seated colonialist and racist views. (4) He was also alleged to have stolen some items and was actually brought to justice. Glenn Penny recounts this story in his book, Objects of Culture: Ethnology and Ethnographic Museums in Imperial Germany:

“During his travels in Nigeria in 1911, Frobenius came into direct conflict with the British authorities concerning his collecting policies in what has come to be known as the Olokun Affair. This incident developed following complaints by the inhabitants of Ife, the sacred capital of the Yoruba country in southern Nigeria that Frobenius had mistreated and deceived them, and had taken away religious objects without their consent. The principal item in dispute was the bronze head of the god Olokun, which Frobenius claimed to have “discovered” in a groove outside the walls of Ife, but which the town’s inhabitants accused him of stealing. As a result of the complaints, which followed Frobenius’s departure from the city British authorities summoned him before an improvised British court and eventually forced him to return many of the items he had acquired from the area”. (5)

When we recall the German colonial rule, a very brutal regime, remembered for its genocide of the Hereros and Namas in South West Africa (now Namibia), as revenge for the killing of some German settlers who had seized their land and were dominating, we may assume that the life of the Africans was not an easy one and that many of the art objects in German museums were obtained through coercion or intimidation even if presented as purchases or gifts. It should also be recalled that the colonial State was no “Rechtsstaat”. (6) Outright force was of course not excluded beatings and caning were widespread, many times exercised by the employer for absenteeism from work and the death sentence was more often enforced in the colonies than in Germany itself. It is quite clear that the structural violence of the colonial situation and the frequent actual use of force by German colonial administrators and the German settlers made Africans amenable to parting with the objects the Europeans wanted. If the present German museum directors are not conscious of this, others in the colonies did not fail to notice this, Cornelia Essner has remarked:

“That the acquisition of ethnografica in the colonial time was on the basis of more or less “structural violence” will not be pursued in detail in this context. Some individual contemporaries were perfectly aware of this fact. Thus one Africa-traveller and resident of the German Empire in Ruanda, Richard Kandt, wrote in 1897 to Felix von Luschan, Deputy Director of the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, as follows: “It is especially difficult to procure an object without at least employing some force. I believe that half of your museum consists of stolen objects.” (7)

For further reading the full 45 pp article by Kwame Opoku [], including photographs, is available at:

January 19th, 2008

Posted In: articles, Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

I become slightly nervous these days when I see an article or a note on the question of restitution of art signed by a European or American museum director, wondering whether we are going to read something that the normal person can understand even if he does not quite accept the argumentation or whether we will be faced with a statement that is so astonishing that one wonders whether we are living in the same world as the museum director. (more…)

January 4th, 2008

Posted In: articles, Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

It was Bonhams and ATG columnist who first raised alarm over Greenhalgh fakes

THE British Museum were credited with uncovering the fraud that led to the jailing of serial faker Shaun Greenhalgh two weeks ago, while auction houses and the trade were criticised for selling his work.
Now, however, as ATG columnist Richard Falkiner can reveal, it was trade specialists who raised the alarm after the British Museum had enthusiastically endorsed examples of Greenhalgh’s work as genuine, unwittingly giving him and his family the verification they sought to pursue their fraud. (more…)

December 16th, 2007

Posted In: articles, Mailing list reports


Eine gute Figur
Da steht sie nun und kann nicht anders. Sie schweigt. Dabei hätte sie viel zu erzählen. Sie wäre die einzige, die den Kunstraub in eigener Sache aufklären könnte. Und nur sie wüsste genau, wo sie die vergangenen 100 Jahre
über gesteckt hat. Fast das gesamte 20. Jahrhundert über war sie fort. Das Kaiserreich brach zusammen, die Sowjetunion kam und ging, Menschen flogen zum Mond – sie blieb verschwunden. Aber Heilige leben im Angesicht der Ewigkeit und haben einen langen Atem. Ebenso wie Kunstexperten. Und deshalb wird die rund 30 Zentimeter hohe Figur heute wieder ihren angestammten Ort einnehmen, so, als wäre sie nie verschwunden aus ihrer Nische im berühmten Altarretabel der
Goldenen Tafel im hannoverschen Landesmuseum. Verschiedene Geldgeber haben den Kauf der 250 000 Euro teuren Statuette ermöglicht. (more…)

December 11th, 2007

Posted In: articles, looting and illegal art traffickers

full text plus photographs:


In light of the recent decision to include ancient coins on the list of import restrictions, Jessica Dietzler conducted the following interview with Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos, Director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, about the significance of the decision and why it is important to safeguarding the cultural heritage of Cyprus.

The Government of Cyprus has ratified several international binding treaties in order to safeguard its cultural heritage. In 2002 (Federal Register Vol. 67; 139), the Governments of the United States and Cyprus entered into a bilateral agreement concerning Import Restrictions Imposed on Pre-Classical and Classical Archaeological Material Originating in Cyprus. As recently as July 16, 2007 (Federal Register Vol. 72; 134), the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was extended another five years and includes an amendment for the addition of ancient coins to the list of import restrictions.

It should be noted that the inclusion of coins on the list is the first of its kind in the history of bilateral agreements between the United States and a foreign government. The State Department’s decision has met with heated reactions. Some leaders of the coin dealer lobby believe that it heralds the eventual end of dealing and collecting activities. Recently, the American Coin Collector’s Guild (ACCG) has filed suit against the US State Department.

For those who are interested in learning more about why coins are important in the archaeological record, please see Coins and Archaeology and a recent SAFE feature article by Nathan Elkins.

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JD: Dr. Flourentzos, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to participate in this interview. The recent renewal of the MOU between the United States and Cyprus is a significant development for both countries. The inclusion of ancient coins figures prominently in the renewal, and has been the subject of intense debate. Clearly, coins occupy an important space in the corpus of scientific archaeological data. When scientifically excavated, they have the potential to help us reconstruct ancient political, economic and social environments. Why are Cypriot coins so important, to include them on the list of import restrictions? Is it because textual evidence regarding the island’s history is so rare, or are there other reasons?

PF: First of all, allow me to thank you warmly for the opportunity you are giving me to communicate with your readers. We deeply appreciate the decision of the Department of State to include ancient Cypriot coins in the MOU. This act shows sensitivity to the importance of preserving world cultural heritage, a principle highly esteemed by the international scientific community.

You have very rightly pointed out that coins are an essential part of the corpus of the archaeological data. Actually, there is no scientific reason to set coins apart from the rest of archaeological finds. And it is important to understand that there is no way of retrieving coins without destroying the stratigraphy of a site.

You would be surprised, but the truth is that coins are of much greater historical importance for Cyprus, than maybe other countries like Greece and Italy. The reason for this is that Cyprus lacks the abundance of rich ancient written sources other areas of the Mediterranean and the Near East enjoy. The plethora of texts of Classical Greece, for example, that have come down to us range from philosophy and science to everyday life problems. These are valuable sources for the history of this area. Cyprus is not that rich in such texts, so the Cypriot coins are especially important for the attempts of reconstructing the history of ancient Cyprus.

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JD: Critics of the recent agreement with Cyprus contend that there is no substantive proof of significant looting of coins on the island. Have ancient coins been looted from Cyprus to any significant degree?

PF: Only a few days ago (first half of October 2007) the police of the Republic of Cyprus in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities managed to arrest a group of five smugglers who had a significant number of Cypriot antiquities in their possession, including several dozens of coins. According to the testimony police managed to gather, two of the smugglers were foreigners and they were planning to export and sell the antiquities outside the island.

The Department of Antiquities has collaborated with the police in quite a few cases in arresting people with metal detectors in archaeological sites, excavating for coins. I am referring to just a few cases of the recent years.

JD: Can you cite any specific instances of ancient Cypriot coins being looted and smuggled out of the island?

PF: On June 2002 in Italy the police managed to arrest a civilian who illegally had in her possession a hoard of 149 silver coins of the ancient Cypriot kingdom of Amathus, a city- state of the southwestern coast of the island of Cyprus. The Italian government returned these coins to the Republic of Cyprus. This case helped also the Italian police to trace an enormous amount of Roman coins excavated unlawfully in Italy.

JD: The collecting of ancient coins is a very popular hobby; ancient coins are also incredibly valuable, monetarily, in the worldwide antiquities market. Some supporters of coin collecting have proposed “responsible” collecting. Do you think it might be possible for coin collectors to collect ancient coins “responsibly” without contributing to the irreversible and destructive process of looting?

PF: There is no way for non-professionals to excavate coins at a site without destroying the archaeological context and the stratigraphy of the site. In the Antiquities Law of the Republic of Cyprus there is a special article for the protection of the stratigraphy of every archaeological site. In contemporary archaeology the ultimate value is context and not any isolated artifact. Thus, destroying stratigraphy to retrieve a coin is equal to destroying archaeology.

I am afraid that arguments about “responsible” collecting are based on the nineteenth century—and thus completely out of date—tradition when it was thought that archaeology is a pleasant pastime that anyone could “enjoy”. In the decades that have elapsed, the gradual transformation of archaeology from a pastime to a science has proved the essential difference between looting and scientific excavation.

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JD: The UNESCO International Code of Ethics for Dealers in Cultural Property states in Article 1 that “Professional traders in cultural property will not import, export or transfer the ownership of this property when they have reasonable cause to believe it has been stolen, alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported.” What if, let’s say, a dealer decides that there is no “reasonable cause” to believe a certain item is illegal. With all of the multilateral and bilateral ratified treaties in place to safeguard cultural heritage, should we still depend on the personal discretion of individual dealers, whose attentiveness may vary?

PF: Your remarks are of great importance. It is obvious that the international archaeological community in collaboration with political authorities should continue their efforts to create and enact multilateral and bilateral treaties so that the world’s cultural heritage is not left at the mercy of just anyone. In this sense, I would like to thank once again the Department of State which agreed that coins should be included in the MOU.

JD: Are dealers’ activities monitored? If not, should they be?

PF: In the Republic of Cyprus yes, the dealers´ activities are monitored. There is a special article in the Antiquities Law [see section 31.VII.26] about dealers. I should stress that during the last decades our policy is to grant no new license for antiquities dealing.

JD: Many coin dealers and collectors assert that they are the protagonists disseminating historical information to the public, claiming that the public needs to understand the importance of ancient history and artifacts through lively and colorful presentations that ‘narrow,’ ‘dead’ academics and archaeologists cannot provide. Another claim is that coin collectors offer the public the chance to experience ‘hands-on’ study of ancient history, a “cultural contribution” that museums cannot make. What is your opinion of this?

PF: It is true that there is a need for some museums to become more lively, more visitor-friendly. The “hands-on” learning method is part of the methodology of modern museology and it has been applied in many European museum programs. The dissemination of archaeological knowledge to the public is one of the main objectives of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus and we try to do this with many ways and methods.   One should honestly admit that private collecting does not help bring historical information to a wide audience. Museums accessible to the general public are better at spreading historical and archaeological knowledge. So the real need is to transform museums to lively organizations. People who are really interested in contributing to the dissemination of knowledge could do this through support of museums.

I should add here that the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, recognizing the need to monitor private antiquities collections, has granted the opportunity to collectors to declare their collections two times in the past, in 1973 and 1996. It should be stressed that the Cypriot Antiquities Law acknowledges possession but not ownership of antiquities.

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JD: What sorts of problems does the occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974 by the Turkish army pose for the Department of Antiquities? Has the Department been able to exercise its authority in the northern occupied territory?

PF: The northern part of the island is illegally occupied by the Turkish army since 1974. This occupation is illegal according to all UN resolutions. The occupied part is still part of the Republic of Cyprus. When the Republic of Cyprus was accepted as a member state of the European Union in 2004, the northern part of the island was considered to be still part of Cyprus. The so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is recognized only by Turkey, the invading and occupying force. The Republic of Cyprus is the only legal and internationally recognized entity on the island. Any archaeological action on the island should be under the authority of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. As of 1974, the Department of Antiquities cannot exercise its authority towards the preservation and protection of the cultural heritage in the northern part of the island. As a result of these conditions, any archaeological activity or intervention on cultural heritage monuments in the occupied area is illegal.

JD: Enkomi, Salamis and Soloi are only a few of some of the most important sites on the island that have suffered damage due to destructive pillaging by looters. Are there any other sites (in the North or South) that are still in great danger?

PF: In the part of the island that is under the control of the Turkish military forces, Christian churches, which are ancient monuments have been destroyed or transformed into mosques or abandoned and neglected to collapse in ruins. Other holy sites have undergone a change of use and become military camps, storerooms, animal shelters etc.

JD: What types of preventative measures (conservation, salvage and rescue excavations or otherwise) are being taken, if any, by the occupying regime to safeguard the cultural heritage of the island? Does anyone monitor the programs (if any)?

PF: The first thing to note is that whatever act concerning antiquities takes place in any part of the island should have the permission and monitoring of the Director of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. Otherwise this act is illegal.

Only recently, a Neolithic site on the Cape of St. Andreas, which had been excavated before 1974, was destroyed by the Turkish military during leveling operations in order to install a pair of flag posts for the flags of Turkey and the so called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. I think this incident is eloquent about the quality of the monitoring of cultural heritage, exercised by the authorities of the so-called ” Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and the Turkish army.

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JD: What obstacles currently face the Republic as far as looting in the South is concerned?

PF: The greater danger for cultural heritage on the part of the island controlled by the Republic of Cyprus is the looting of tombs which takes place in remote rural areas. The recent incident I referred to above brought to our hands antiquities that had been looted in the rural areas of the southwestern part of the island.

JD: Does the pace of development and tourism on the island (both in the North and the South) present any challenges for the Department of Antiquities?

PF: Tourism in Cyprus poses of course the same problems and dangers for cultural heritage that all Mediterranean countries are facing. In this part of the world, the duty for protecting a rich archaeological heritage has to be balanced with a galloping development of tourism. The Antiquities Law is the main tool for the Department of Antiquities to implement a monitoring mechanism towards a viable development. We are trying to turn tourism to an ally, by highlighting how a sensible management of cultural heritage could result to a tourist product of higher quality. Towards this end, we are cooperating with the Cyprus Tourism Organization.The most recent product of this collaboration is the implementation of a cultural route about Aphrodite, which promotes the idea of cultural tourism. The Cyprus Tourism Organization included the improvement of the archaeological sites in its strategic plan for the next ten years.

JD: What, in your opinion, are the biggest problems currently facing academic archaeologists and scientists working in Cyprus?

PF: The most serious problem and obstacle against a healthy development of Cypriot archaeology is the occupation of the northern part of the island by the Turkish military forces. The archaeological investigation on the northern part of the island has been paused since 1974. The Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus right from its early days has kept an open policy towards foreign archaeological missions which wished to excavate on the island. After the invasion of 1974 the foreign missions which had been working on the north part of the island were forced to abandon their excavations. Many of them lost even their written archives and scientific notes. Since then, they have not been able to go back and resume their work because any archaeological work, on the occupied part of the island is illegal according to international law, treaties and scientific ethics. Greek Cypriot archaeologists cannot go and work in the north either. Turkish Cypriot archaeologists remain isolated from the international archaeological community for the same reasons.

JD: Are these problems also jeopardizing Cypriot cultural heritage? If so, how?

PF: The inability of the scientific community to intervene in the northern part of the island poses great dangers for the preservation of cultural heritage, especially nowadays that a galloping building development is taking place in the occupied northern part of the island.

JD: Besides the return of the Kanakaria Byzantine Mosaics, what are some of the other major repatriations that Cyprus has received (in general or recently)?

PF: We have managed to repatriate a considerable number of antiquities which had been illegally exported from the island, namely a part of the Chr. Hadjiprodromou collection. Part of it was looted and illegally exported from the island and found in auction houses in Europe. Moreover we succeeded to repatriate several Byzantine icons from Europe and USA.

JD: What are your hopes for the future of archaeology, either on the island or in general?

PF: My deepest hope is that the two communities of the island could soon reach a political agreement for the re-unification of the island. Cyprus is too small to be divided. The archaeologists who work on the history of this island know very well that the cultural history of the island has been one and the same for its inhabitants throughout the millennia. In our days, when Europe is tending to unite under one entity, it would be a historical anachronism to have two separate states in Cyprus. Cypriot archaeology would be a major victim of such a development.

JD: Dr. Flourentzos, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of SAFE and the international community, for answering these questions.

PF: Please accept my sincere thanks for the opportunity you have given me.

December 10th, 2007

Posted In: articles, looting and illegal art traffickers

Within a year after Microsoft’s presentation of Windows 95, and the steady increase of the Internet, the Museum Security Network was launched.  December 2007 MSN is celebrating its 11th anniversary.  The main purpose of the site was to provide relevant links, articles, product information, plus a news service about incidents with cultural property. Thanks to modern day advanced search engines such as Google it is no longer needed to maintain links. At the moment the main activity is collecting and disseminating information. The recovery of stolen art is a side-effect. The MSN is a not for profit, and subscribing the mailing list is free. Some 1,500 subscribers from 85 countries have joined the mailing list. Subscribers are staff of organisations like ICOM, UNESCO, Interpol, FBI, Carabinieri, major auction houses, universities, government organisations, museums, libraries, archives, churches, national parks, plus dealers, collectors, and specialised policemen and journalists (and maybe also dubious dealers and collectors..).In the past ten years MSN has not only become a major source of information about the risks culture goods are faced with, but several times also has been instrumental in the recovery of stolen objects.The Internet made the world a lot smaller. Almost 70% of all recovered stolen culture goods are recovered in another country than where the theft took place. Thieves’ market is no longer limited to local fences, but nowadays they really have a global market. The number of data on the Internet runs in the billions. Thanks to sophisticated search engines it is becoming easier day by day to scan all those billions of data. This easy access is available for both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad guys’.

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December 5th, 2007

Posted In: articles


ATHENS: Benaki Museum, September 11 – October 22 2006. PRODUCTIONS, 5 Stisihorou st., 10674 Athens, Greece, Tel: +30 210 7211073, 7229388, Fax: +30 210 7211073, e-mail:

2005 Anemon Productions produced The Network, documentary about the illicit trade in antiquities (read a review of this documentary at:

The exhibition, and presentation by Colin Renfrew at the Benaki Museum, October 9, 2006

A multi-media travelling exhibition about the illicit trade of antiquities in Greece, Cyprus and the world, which will be housed in four European archaeological museums (Athens, Nicosia, Corinth, Nemea). (more…)

October 14th, 2006

Posted In: articles, Mailing list reports