Sunday, 9 July 2017

Former Head of the FBI’s International Art Theft Section says Collectors are the Real Looters

Lynne McKee former head of the FBI’s international art theft section is scathing about Hobby Lobby’s claims of innocence after paying a $3 million fine to settle allegations of smuggling looted Iraqi artifacts into the country, the company has issued a statement claiming it was more naïve than culpable.
“The company was new to the world of acquiring these items and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process,” the statement reads in part. McKee, for one, isn’t buying it. “Obviously, you know what you’re getting into,” she said. “If you’re spending $1.6 million on art, you know.” McKee, a former museum curator who led the FBI’s international art theft unit from 1997 to 2005, was part of a team sent to the Middle East in 2003 to repatriate cultural artifacts stolen from Iraq during the turmoil that accompanied the U.S. invasion of the country. Gangs of professional art thieves stole thousands of ancient objects from the National Museum in Baghdad and pillaged archaeological sites throughout the country, often targeting clay tablets and seals like the ones in the Hobby Lobby case because they would be easier to sell on the black market than more unique and identifiable works of art. “These are exactly the kinds of items that move on that market,” McKee said. [...] McKee said [...] that the only reason the trade in stolen artifacts exists is that there seems to be no shortage of buyers willing to look the other way. “The problem with looting is that it’s market-driven — nobody’s going to steal this stuff if they can’t sell it,” she said. “As long as there’s a market, people are going to steal it, and here in the United States we’re one of the major markets. We drive illegal art traffic worldwide.
Bennett Hall, 'Ex-FBI art sleuth cries foul: McKee questions Hobby Lobby explanation' Corvallis Gazette-Times Jul 9, 2017

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