Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Stamping out the illicit trade in cultural artifacts

The Guardian, UK (Mark Vlasic)

The allegations could have come straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Three art dealers and a collector have been accused of running an antiquities smuggling ring that illegally shipped Egyptian treasures, including Egyptian sarcophagi, funerary boats and limestone figures over 2,000 years old, to the United States. The relics arrived stateside in innocuous freight boxes, labeled "antiques" and "wooden panels," in order to escape scrutiny.

Declared "one of the largest and most-significant cases of antiquities smuggling in recent memory" by Egypt's minister of antiquities, the case provides a reminder that the "Arab Spring" may have facilitated trade of a treasure trove of stolen assets in the world's art and antiquities markets – and that increased diligence is needed to ensure that our world's cultural heritage is protected.

In the recent indictment, the US department of justice charged Mousa Khouli, Salem Alshdaifat and Ayman Ramadan, and collector Joseph A Lewis II, with conspiring to smuggle artifacts and conspiring to launder funds. The men are said to have collaborated in disguising and transferring ancient Egyptian artifacts, sidestepping international treaties and domestic customs laws, and abandoning moral restraint.

The case against Khouli and his co-accused draws attention to the global market for looted treasure.

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