In the column “Lessons from the History of Art Crime” in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Noah Charney discusses the new “Intelligence” body founded by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to monitor illegal traffic in cultural property.
This new group will be called the International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods. It will work as a bridge between UNESCO, Interpol, and its constituent policing agencies, as well as other research institutions in the field. The “Observatory” is now awaiting formal funding approval from the European Commission.
The story of this group was first broken by Ian Johnston of NBC News. An ICOM official who spoke to Mr. Johnston, but asked not to be named, discussed how traffic in cultural property is “much worse” than other types of theft. The contact went on: “ICOM felt it needed a lot more reliable information and recent analyses of trends, what one would call the need for ‘intelligence’ when fighting organized criminal activity.”
It has long been known that art crime is a funding source for organized crime, from small local gangs to large international syndicates, but the true extent remains uncertain. Until the US Department of Justice recently remade their website, they stated clearly that art crime is the third-highest-grossing criminal trade worldwide, behind only the drug and arms trades, and that it is a major funding source for organized crime and even terrorism (the new website design no longer has a page dedicated to cultural property crimes). Interpol has, in the past, reiterated this information, but currently states that while experts have made such claims, it simply does not have enough information to confirm or deny them.
The ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by ARCA Founder Noah Charney, is available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. Associate Editor Marc Balcells (ARCA '11) is a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.