March 27, 2012

Workshop in Australia: Contemporary Perspectives on the Detection, Investigation and Prosecution of Art Crime


by Dr. Saskia Hufnagel

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS) at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia will hold a workshop gathering international and Australian scholars and experts in the field of art crime detection, investigation and prosecution to discuss contemporary issues on 1 and 2 of May 2012. The workshop has been organised by Dr Saskia Hufnagel (CEPS), Prof Duncan Chappell (University of Sydney) and Prof Simon Bronitt (CEPS). It is directed in particular at assessing the areas of art theft, fraud, and illicit trafficking of cultural property, which have so far not received significant attention in the field of Australasian criminal law and policing research and practice. It attempts to uncover the nature and scope of the art crime problem in an Australasian context and examine how such crime is currently dealt with by criminal justice agencies within this region.

To inform this assessment the workshop applies a comparative perspective from Europe and North America regarding law enforcement and legal methods used to detect, investigate and prosecute art crime. It combines international academic and practitioner perspectives on the art crime problem to foster collaborative present and future research and linkages. The ultimate aim of the workshop is to address similarities and differences between the different regions and determine whether similar problems exist and common solutions can be identified.

The workshop is of particular significance not only because of the apparent lack of systematic scholarly research and practice in the field of art crime in Australia and the region but also because European and North American studies reveal that art crime is becoming a broadening and highly profitable area of criminal activity. Thus it needs to be determined whether art crime has become similarly significant in the Australasian region. Particular questions which require analysis include whether Australasian art crime is linked to money laundering and other forms of organised crime including the financing of terrorism. A further topic that has not been dealt with in most other regions of the world, but which is of particular concern in Australia, is fraud and illicit trafficking associated with indigenous art.

While the academic perspectives gleaned from this workshop will be invaluable, practitioner inputs are believed to be crucial to its success. The workshop will therefore also include representatives from Australian police services, the Australian Crime Commission, prosecutors and judicial officers; Australian customs and border protection officials; the insurance industry, museums and art dealers. Key note speakers include Prof Neil Brodie, Prof Ken Polk, Prof Duncan Chappell, Prof Noah Charney and Mr Vernon Rapley. Observers include representatives from Victoria Police, New South Wales Police, the Australian Federal Police and other law enforcement agencies.

The outcomes of the workshop are twofold. One outcome of the workshop is an edited collection, comprising papers by participants. The second outcome of the workshop is to lay a foundation stone for a much broader research agenda on art crime in the Australasian region. It will also contribute to the 2012 Annual CEPS conference  in Policing and Security (4-5 October 2012) which will include a significant section on art crime investigations. Both the workshop and the conference will be drivers for an application for an ARC Linkage Project on art crime in the Australasian region.

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