Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Why are US Authorities Letting Culture Criminals off the Hook?

Why are US authorities and politicians protecting cultural  racketeers? Rick St Hilaire ('Cultural Heritage Trafficking Requires Deterrence', Cultural Heritage Lawyer blog Tuesday, December 16, 2014) asks where the difficulties lie in US law enforcement officers tracking down and arresting criminals, and US prosecutors are securing convictions. Why are US police and prosecutors routinely failing to investigate and prosecute cultural heritage traffickers? As St Hilaire points out, we may all observe that the number of cultural criminals arrested in the USA for heritage trafficking "has been infinitesimally small". What's going on? Some contraband artefacts are detected and seized, forfeited and then there is the "repatriation sideshow" where HSI bigwigs get to hobnob with foreign diplomats with canapés and a photo-call. Then they all go home, "job done".
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.
the problem is that cultural property protection is based in the Department of State and is used by the USA only as a diplomatic tool - a means of exercising 'soft power' and liaising with foreign governments. In other words, it is all done for show, for propaganda, and not as not part of a dedicated attempt to deal with international criminal networks.

Is there any reason why US politicians are not pressurising law enforcement to deal with this problem more effectively?  How many members of the US governing elite are in private collectors of dugup ancient coins or artefacts ("ancient art") or ethnographic objects ("tribal art")? How many have financial or other business links to the big dealers?   Is that the reason why nothing is being done and when dodgy dealings are detected in the USA, the people concerned get let off, or get light (slap on hand) sentences? Why do dealers' lobbyists apparently not have any problem getting strong support from, for example, US Congressmen for their various anti-preservation initiatives? 

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