November 29, 2010

ARCA Student Kim Alderman Presents "Honor Amongst Thieves"

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Kim Alderman, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a student in ARCA’s Class of 2010 postgraduate program in International Art Crime Studies, presented at the Antiquities Trafficking panel at the American Society of Criminologists Conference in San Francisco in mid-November.

The panel, sponsored by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), also included Derek Fincham, Erik Nemeth, and Yasmeen del Rosario.

Alderman, who studied art history and archaeology at the University of Maryland at College Park, provided an abstract of her presentation on her blog, Cultural Property and Archaeology Law Blog, and we followed up via email with some questions of our own.

ARCA Blog: Do you believe that organized crime has fueled the illicit antiquities trade since the early 1960s?

Alderman: “Whether organized crime is connected to the illicit antiquities trade depends on how you define “organized crime.” The broad definition of organized crime is three or more people, engaged in a pattern of illegal conduct, for the purpose of obtaining material gains. If you use this definition, then it is correct to say that organized crime is involved in the illicit antiquities trade. From subsistence looters to tombaroli to smugglers, there are always people working in concert to excavate and move illicit antiquities. If you are talking only about mobsters or the mafia, then there is less evidence to support the alleged connection. As to the claim that the involvement began in the 1960s, I suspect this originated with allegations of the mafia’s entry into art theft during that decade, and was later extended by imprecise language to the illicit antiquities trade. There has certainly been increasingly organized subversion in the illicit antiquities trade since then, although whether the 1960s served as a temporal starting point for such organization remains to be seen.”

ARCA Blog: Is the illicit antiquities trade linked to money laundering, extortion, the drug and arms trades, terrorism and even slavery?

Alderman: “Claims that the illicit antiquities trade is connected with money laundering, extortion, the drug and arms trades, terrorism, and slavery, should be taken individually. The purchasing of illicit art and antiquities has long been a way to take cash gained from criminal activities and convert it to the ownership of goods, thereby concealing the source of the funds. Extortion would be more an issue for stolen artwork, and I have not observed a link between it and antiquities. As to terrorism, there are discrete instances of terrorist groups unearthing and exporting antiquities in their local regions, but these instances serve as indicators of a potential connection – not hard evidence. Finally, as to the alleged connection between illicit antiquities and the drug and arms trades or slavery, Eastern European mafias have been accused of trafficking in “everything from antiquities to humans.”

ARCA Blog: Thank you, Kim.

Readers can follow Kim Alderman at


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