Monday, 1 November 2010

SAFE Beacon Awards Highlight Importance of Preventing Antiquities Theft

The Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) Beacon Award is given to those who stand out in their fight against illicit antiquities trade. On Oct. 29, over 100 people attended an event awarding it to four individuals at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The awards were given to Senior Special Agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement James McAndrew, Attorney Robert Goldman, Federal Prosecutor David Hall and retired FBI agent Robert Wittman for their part in the investigations and prosecutions in cases involving stolen art and cultural objects.
The four unsung heroes shared their experiences about the difficulties and importance of saving antiquities in a reception after the award ceremony. "Stolen and looted art trade sums up to almost $6 billion," McAndrew said. And stressed that the lucrative crime does not exist by itself. "In many cases, the money is used to finance terrorism activities." Wittman, who created the FBI's Art Crime Team, has recovered more than 850 artworks and antiquities. His achievements have brought significant attention to the art crime field. The lack of public support and awareness, however, is crippling the battle against illicit antiquities trade, he said. "New York City is a mega center for the arts," Wittman said, "but recently they have been slashing the agents in this field of work." To successfully prosecute an art crime suspect, Hall said a prosecutor needs to show proof that the suspect knew of the illegality of the stolen artifact. "The only way to prove that is with the help of undercover agents and tipsters," Hall said. It is up to the public to push the government to invest more and play a more active role in saving these valuable antiquities.
Congratulations to all four and those who work with them to combat the traffic in illicitly obtained cultural property. SAFE, a nonprofit organization, has been hosting the Beacon Awards since 2006 as a way to recognize and raise awareness about the severe cultural loss caused by the illicit antiquities trade.

Note that Peter Tompa, paid lobbyist for the antiquities trade has questioned the propriety of such awards (Should Law Enforcement Accept Awards at a Fundraiser for an Archaeological Advocacy Group? ) noting that SAFE advocates a moral position alongside that which is merely legal
"Law enforcement should never do so when it enforces the law. In addition, government officials should avoid any appearance of bias or conflict of interest. Would it be appropriate for a meat inspector to accept an award from PETA or an EPA official to accept an award from Greenpeace?"
Or a US congressman or the Director of the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme to accept a "Friends of Numismatists" award from the ACCG?

The truth is while collectors and dealers are not willing to self-police the antiquities market, guarding the morality and legality of the trade has to be the task of external watchdogs and where appropriate enforcement agencies. These - and social consent - are the only restraints preventing a total free-for-all on the global antiquities market. It is vital that the importance of the task of policing this market and the contribution of those involved be kept in the public eye - which is what these awards are for. One may only surmise why dealers and collectors are not joining in the congratulation of these four for their work in combating the illegal trade in cultural property.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why the hell shouldn't a meat inspector receive an award from anybody and everybody?

Surely, the only people on earth that would voice opposition to that would be people involved in unacceptable practices in the meat trade?

Worse still, imagine if butchers opposed "over-zealous meat inspections" and had notices in their shops saying "I have no reason to believe this meat was obtained from unethical sources"!

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