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February 3, 2011

Profile: ARCA Lecturer Edgar Tijhuis on Transnational Crime, Organized Crime and Illicit Art and Antiquities

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Edgar Tijhuis, lawyer and assistant-professor of Criminology at the VU University in Amsterdam, in The Netherlands, will return to Amelia for the third year to teach “Criminology, Art, and Transnational Organized Crime” for ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Property Protection Studies.

Tijhuis, the author of Transnational Crime and the Interface between Legal and Illegal Actors – The Case of the Illicit Art and Antiquities Trade (Nijmegen, Wolf Legal Publishers, 2006), published a chapter in Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger, 2009), “Who Is Stealing All Those Paintings?” He is also associated with the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement in Amsterdam.

ARCA blog: Professor Tijhuis, your essay in Art & Crime makes the point, as Noah Charney wrote in a long footnote, “that most experts are going on hearsay from police about Organized Crime and art crime, with relatively little empirical data and evidence beyond the word of police, undercover agents, and criminals.” Since publishing this article in 2009, do you think that anything had changed? Have you seen any data that would support the level of activity of Organized Crime in the illicit and antiquities trade?
Professor Tijhuis: It is difficult to answer this question briefly. To be sure, I did not mean to say that “organized crime” is not involved in crimes related to art. The point is that general claims of this involvement do not seem to be based on firm empirical data. In fact, “art crime” consists of all kinds of rather different types of (criminal) activity, in uncountable places around the world. With some specific types of art crime, one can clearly see an “organized” character, with others there does not seem to be any organization at all and with many we simply do not know or we see all kind of different ways of organizing these crimes. To make it even more complex, an ongoing debate among criminologists focuses on the whole concept of “organized crime”. Do we actually focus on actors (organizations) or activities?
At this moment different studies try to shed light on these topics. Among others, Noah Charney and myself are involved in these studies and I hope they will enhance our knowledge.
ARCA blog: As a practical point, do you think that Organized Crime uses stolen art and antiquities in part of the trade on illegal drug and arms activities? Are you aware of any data that ties stolen art or antiquities to any other illegal activities supported by Organized Crime networks?
Professor Tijhuis: Again, we are dealing with a rather broad category of crimes that take place all around the world. I am not aware of data that systematically connects art crimes with other illegal activities. However, one can find examples of connections with other crimes in specific places around the world.
ARCA blog: What is the difference between transnational crime and Organized Crime and how does this influence the way you teach your course for ARCA?
Professor Tijhuis: First of all, transnational crime clearly involves cross-border types of crime. At the same time, it does not necessarily involve all kind of criminal organizations but may involve individuals or constantly changing networks of people involved in specific crimes. The different terms are related to the different perspectives on crime that were mentioned earlier. When one takes actors as the starting point of studies, one will use the terms “organized crime” or “transnational organized crime”. Transnational crime, on the contrary, is sometimes used when one takes (illicit) activities as starting point.
ARCA blog: What is your current area of focus as related to art crime?
Professor Tijhuis: Currently I'm looking at several specific topics. One of them is “profiling”. We look at ways to profile art crimes, either geographically or psychological. Furthermore, together with Noah Charney, I am working on an article on Organized Crime and Art Crime, which should help to clarify things for readers and students alike, and which will combine our two approaches. We very much enjoy working together, and this is the first of what we hope will be several collaborative future projects.
ARCA blog: Will you be doing anything differently in your class this year?
Professor Tijhuis: Each year I try to add new elements and change the material. This year will probably have somewhat less purely criminological theory and more theory on organized crime and white- collar crime. Furthermore, recent literature and cases always provide wonderful new material.