Saturday 6 July 2013

Peter Campbell on Crime, Corruption (and Murder) in "the Elusive Black Market Stages of Antiquities Trafficking"

Peter Campbell has an interesting article on the Southampton University Archaeology blog called "How Crime, Corruption, and Murder Are Hidden in the Elusive Black Market Stages of Antiquities Trafficking" (July 4, 2013). This is a summary of an important text he has published in International Journal of Cultural Property which sets out some key points about several aspects of the trade in antiquitiues, and the trade in illicit antiquities in particular. He is interested in the criminological definition of what constitutes "organized crime" and sees it as a network structure which is
a highly evolved structure that many crime groups have gravitated toward[...] “each participant is a replaceable cog in a series of criminal relationships analogous to a ‘plate of spaghetti [where] every piece seems to touch each other, but you are never sure where it all leads” [...]. Networks are the form of the modern criminal group.
The network of the antiquities trade he suggests can be split into four interlocking stages "each potentially filled by multiple individuals":
1) Looter/Looting 2) Early Stage Middleman/smuggling 3) Late Stage Middleman/laundering and selling 4) Collector/purchasing. Since the majority of researchers focus on people looting and selling, they are only observing the first, third, and fourth stages. This approach has its merits since these are highly visible stages. The second stage, however, is obscured in black market activity. [...] There is no doubt that traditional organized crime is involved in the antiquities trade, but organize crime does not run operation from the ground to buyer.
Certainly as far as this goes, I think most of us who are looking at the illicit trade see that second stage (rather than the entire network Campbell sketches) as where the organized criminal activity is concentrated. They may take part in the organizing of the looting, but nobody has ever, as far as I am aware, suggested that - for example - the artefact hunters ("looters") are  themselves members of organized criminal groups. Likewise those who acquire the artefacts (stage three) I do not think are generally considered in discussions of the illicit trade to be "Mafia" members, but it seems obvious that in order to get the dodgy stuff, they do deal with them. [Later on in his text, Cambell describes these stage three dealings as "the Grey Market" in antiquities.]

Campbell describes (page 133) the second stage, this organized criminal network. He says it has:
the most variable population in terms of skills and, therefore, has connections to other forms of crime. As a multibillion-dollar industry with less risk than narcotics or arms, antiquities draw diverse profit-seeking participants, including established crime groups. Researchers seeking connections between antiquities and narcotics, arms, human trafficking, and other illicit commodities should focus on the second stage. Likewise, corruption is almost solely found in this stage, including public officials, police, ambassadors, and customs agents. Violent crime, generally rare, is likewise primarily relegated to this stage when it does occur”. What sorts of crime is found in the second stage? Well it includes Afghanistan’s Haqqani Network, the Turkish mafia, Armenia human traffickers, Bulgarian drug dealers, Lebanese weapons smugglers, and other traditional crime organizations.
A bit further down, he offers an attempt to picture the "Relative Populations of the Antiquities Network". Neil Brodie did something like this in his 'Culture Without Context' days ("pity the poor middleman"). I am not clear about what the symbols represent, do they relate to the number of people he thinks are  involved in various stages of one artefact, or relative contributions to the trade in a particular type of artefact (shabtis or republican coins from Italy for example)? Whatever it shows, I am not too convinced that the proportions are right, but that is for future discussion.

Campbell summarises the illicit antiquities trade as being "incredibly complex and ever-changing, which means it is best described as a loosely-connected network where participants are constantly joining or leaving".
There is no hierarchy and participants range from farmers to mafia members to academics. They can take part one time or they can do it over and over. Despite this complex population of participants and lack of a hierarchy, the trade follows repeating patterns based on the political, cultural, and economic structures in each country. Rather than focus on individuals, I argue that disrupting the network will have an immediate, as well as long-term, effect on the trade. Those laundering artefacts onto the legal market are the smallest population and are tied to store fronts, so disrupting this group affects the entire network. Similarly, middlemen in the second stage are often jack-of-all trade smugglers, so combating smuggling of any illicit goods affects this group.
Alternatively - and more socially usefully - of course, effectively combating smuggling of other illicit goods will affect the trade in illicit antiquities. Here is the crux of the matter, the trade in illicit antiquities can only flourish while there are no barriers to the movement of illicit items generally through the barriers of bubbles that are our national and international borders. But the real crux of the matter, and which everybody (except no-questions-asking collectors of and no-questions-asking dealers in dodgy artefacts), will agree with Mr Campbell:
 Of course the best way to prevent looting of antiquities is for collectors in the UK, US, and other market countries to stop buying artefacts without suitable paperwork. Buying grey market antiquities is interacting directly or indirectly with a criminal network and in other trafficking networks these people are held as collaborators. 

Find the full article here: The Illicit Antiquities Trade as a Transnational Criminal Network: Characterizing and Anticipating Trafficking of Cultural Heritage, International Journal of Cultural Property, 2013, 20 113-153.

Vignette: The message about black markets from 1946. I guess we never learn... 

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