August 19, 2013

Noah Charney's "Q&A with Ruth Godthelp" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Noah Charney, founder of ARCA and the editor of The Journal of Art Crime, interviews Ruth Godthelp, Senior Amsterdam Police Officer with the Dutch Art Squad ["Q&A with Ruth Godthelp" in the Spring 2013 issue].
Noah Charney: How did the Politie Art Squad first become established? I believe that prior to its establishment, Martin Finkelnberg was informally the go-to agent for art-related cases, but that there was no formal team in place.
Ruth Godthelp: In 2010, I was given the opportunity, by the serious and organized crime department of the Amsterdam Police, to explore the phenomenon of "art-related crime;" this being not only theft, fencing or embezzlement of art, antiques (possibly being cultural heritage) but, in addition, also more abstract variations, such as money laundering and types of fraud (forgeries of objects of art or their provenance documents, insurance fraud, etc.) 
This opportunity was the effect of the general acknowledgement, within the Amsterdam Police, that certain characteristics of the art world, and the involved objects, lead to risks on the illegal activities. These are defined as risks, mainly following from high and fluctuating art prices and the ease of acting anonymously which, knowing or unknowing, can have the effect of undermining activities which damage the legal structures of the art world and its players. 
To improve our information, the exploratory activities gradually led to the formation of a strong network of "players" in the art world. Not only art dealers and trade associations, but also representatives of auction houses, fairs, galleries, insurance companies, certified appraisers of art and antiquities, foundations, museums and, of course, the Ministry of Culture and its Heritage Inspection department. Where at first we noticed that "the art world" was reluctant to cooperate with the police because of an understandable fear of lack of action, later we saw this attitude change into a very cooperative modus. In recent years, lots of useful information about stolen objects, and bad faith/rogue buyers and dealers has come to us from our network. From exploring the art world, we fluently started dealing with actual cases, with the result that cases could be solved, and our intelligence became better and better.

This interview is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by ARCA Founder Noah Charney. It is available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and 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.