Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Serbian Connection: The Art World Does Deals with "All-Singing, All-Dancing Criminals"

It emerges from an Art Newspaper article today that quite a few stolen art works from Western European collections are turning up in southeastern Europe. There seems to be an international network of connections between organized criminal groups in the Balkans along which illicitly obtained artworks and antiques (the Ashton Keynes lecturn) - and I would not mind betting antiquities - are moving. This article highlights one section of the activity, the Serbian connection.

European art recovery experts are increasingly concentrating on developing their businesses in the Balkans to track down stolen works of art circulating in the region’s criminal networks. Dick Ellis, the former head of the Metro­politan Police Art & Antiques Unit has, with four Serbians, including businessmen and private investigators, set up "Art Management", a specialist art recovery firm to focus on the Balkan region.
We understand that, in addition to Ellis’ firm, at least two other private investigators are active in the region, while the Art Loss Register (ALR) has launched a campaign targeting Balkan criminals. The ALR, whose representatives made around eight trips to the region last year, presented a briefing document at a conference in Barcelona last October, setting out options for recovery in a notoriously difficult region.

Since the break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent war, the authorities have largely focused on hunting war criminals and combating drug trafficking. However, the region has become an important transit point for art stolen from France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the former Czechoslo­vakia, Hol­land and Belgium by well-known gangs including the “Balkan Bandits” and the “Pink Panthers”. While Serbia is the main base for the gangs, many of the stolen works are emerging in surrounding Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Charlie Hill, another former Met Police detective, says that, despite the silly names, “these … are all-singing, all-dancing criminals. The problem with art crime in the Balkans is that it’s a fascinating nightmare—the crim­inals are a nightmare but the art turning up is fascinating.”
The rest of the Art Newspaper article discusses the ethical issues involved in paying ransoms to recover stolen artworks.

[The Serbian Connection, orange areas where art is stolen from, green, where it is ending up.
Who in the antiquities trade sells antiquities of likely Serbian, Montenegran, Kosovan and
Makedonian origins and where do they come from?]

Riah Pryor. 'Balkans targeted in hunt for stolen art', The Art Newspaper January 19, 2012.

Donna Bowater, 'Brass lectern stolen from Wiltshire church turns up at Romanian antique fair' Telegraph 08 Jan 2012 (Ornate brass lectern stolen from a church in Ashton Keynes in Wiltshire worth around £2,000 found on sale in Romania)

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