Tuesday 12 May 2009

ARCA Art Crime Facts

The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) is a new think tank/consultancy group on contemporary issues in art crime. This non-profit organization will study issues in art crime in general, and work as consultants on art protection and recovery cases brought to them by international police, governments, museums, places of worship, and other public institutions. On their webpage they have a section presenting a few facts (compiled from sources including Interpol, the FBI, Scotland Yard, Carabinieri, independent research and ARCA projects) on art crime:

Art crime represents the third highest grossing criminal enterprise worldwide, behind only drugs and arms trafficking.* It brings in $2-6 billion per year, most of which goes to fund international organized crime syndicates.

Most art crime since the 1960s is perpetrated either by, or on behalf of, international organized crime syndicates. They either use stolen art for resale, or to barter on a closed black market for an equivalent value of goods or services. Individually instigated art crimes are rare, and art crimes perpetrated for private collectors are rarest of all.

One of the greatest problems is that neither the general public, nor government officials, realize the severity of art crime. Art crime funds all organized crime enterprises, including terrorism. And yet it is often dismissed as a victimless crime, because it is not understood.

Italy has by far the most art crime, with approximately 20,000 art thefts reported each year. Russia has the second most, with approximately 2000 art thefts reported per year. Italy is the only country whose government takes art crime as seriously as it should. Italy’s Carabinieri are by far the most successful art squad worldwide, employing over 300 agents full time. Other countries have had great success with their art squads, despite lack of governmental support, while many countries do not have a single officer dedicated to art crime, the third largest criminal enterprise worldwide.
ARCA identifies the United States as “The World’s primary art consumer, for both legitimate and lllicit goods”.

Britain's art market is second only to the US and experts claim up to £200m worth of stolen art and antiques are sold in the UK each year. Despite this Britain has no national art crime squad. The Metropolitan Police's has a relativel small "arts squad", based in London. It was formed in 1969 and in the past has dealt with 120 cases a year and has been was involved in recovery of art works across the world. Over the last few years, its budget has been cut inevitably threatening a decline in its effectiveness (Sandra Laville, ‘Met's art theft squad has to go cap in hand’, The Guardian, Saturday 21 April 2007).

While the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art is not primarily concerned with the destruction of archaeological context by artefact hunters digging up places to supply the antiquities market (being more interested in the individual items as "art" works), it cannot hurt to have more attention being drawn to the practices and significance of the no-questions-asked art and antiquities market. Despite the denials of the dealers in portable antiquities, the connections between the ultimate suppliers of "fresh" material to the trade in "antiquities" and organized crime and other unsavoury social phenomena are becoming more firmly established through work by organizations like this. Given these facts, it seems also that it is a matter of time before governments will see the importance of combatting the loopholes for criminal involvement offered by the no-questions-asked antiquities market.

*Interpol estimates that art theft is the fourth largest organised crime after drugs, people trafficking and arms.


Mark said...

Paul, I would not go so far as to say that ARCA is not primarily concerned with the destruction of archaeological context by artefact hunters and others. In fact, in the first issue of the Journal of Art Crime there is a revealing interview with Lord Colin Renfrew - the most recent recipient of the SAFE Beacon Award. As ARCA US Representative I thank you for the recent press on your blog. Best regards, MD

Paul Barford said...

Thanks for your comment. I was not of course implying that archaeology was ignored. There are of course consequences for the discussion whether we treat so-called "portable antiquities" as "ancient art" or from another viewpoint as archaeological evidence. We need them to be seen as both of course.

I am glad however to see yet another organization being set up to examine these issues and generate public debate.

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