Tuesday 18 November 2014

Reform of Bulgarian Antiquities Law Needed

An article in Novinite suggests that "Bulgaria is losing an estimated BGN 500 M (EUR 250 M) a year from illegal trading in archaeological artifacts due to inconsistent legislation". Perhaps it should be focussing more on what precious information about the past the region is losing through sites being trashed to produce those finds for the illegal market. How do you measure the 'value' of that in financial terms?
According to Shteryo Nozharov, a member of Bulgarian NGO Forum Association, about 5,000 treasure hunters are known to operate in the country. Authorities are aware of at least eight treasure hunters [who secured] protection to illegal trafficking of artifacts via Austria and Germany to Canada, the US, the UK and sometimes Russia and Japan. While Bulgarian police uncover about a third of crimes involving illegal trading in artifacts or their illegal export, the number of pre-trial criminal proceedings launched against suspected illegal traders and traffickers is just 130 a year, Nozharov told Darik radio station. What’s more, just one of the suspects in those criminal proceedings had been found guilty and sentenced to a jail term over the past year, while 50-60 other suspects had been issued suspended sentences. 
Nozharov urges coming down harder on these culture criminals and tightening up the legislative loopholes that allow the dishonest 'laundering' of finds by the simple expedient of moving them across a national border ("under Bulgaria's legislation, if a trafficker succeeds in illegally exporting an artifact and then imports it back – already accompanied by a certificate of origin putting its price at just a fraction of its real value – the artifact is exempt from mandatory identification and registration in Bulgaria. In this way, even artifacts that belong to the world’s cultural heritage can be declared as having only minor value").

Bulgaria intends setting up a special police force tasked with combating art theft, treasure hunting and illegal exports of artefacts. Obviously dealing with international criminal groups will require the co-operation of law enforcement agencies and investigators in the market destination countries also, it's not enough merely to send artefacts home, but there must be prosecutions all along the trail of handling of illicit goods.

It is interesting to note that with a population of  7,364,570, such are the temptations of the illicit market  Nozharov's estimate suggests that one in 1470 Bulgarians is involved in illegal artefact hunting. But then there is surely something wrong with these figures, 260 million euros worth of finds produced by 5000 artefact hunters means that every one of them annually finds objects worth 50 000 euros. I'd like to see how those figures were calculated and where he thinks the 'high end' antiquities they surely imply would be 'surfacing'.

'Bulgaria Losing BGN 500 M/Year from Illegal Trading in Archaeological Artifacts', Novinite November 17, 2014.

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