This Week in AML

Interpol Looks At Cultural Property Crime

INTERPOL has released its latest survey of member countries – Assessing Crimes Against Cultural Property 2020. The report discusses the INTERPOL Stolen Works of Art Database and the recently release ID-Art mobile application. John and Elliot discuss the increases in cultural crimes during 2020 and the challenges faced by countries around the globe as they work to reduce illicit excavations and theft of assets.                




Interpol Looks At Cultural Property Crime TRANSCRIPT


Elliot Berman: John, how are you today?

John Byrne: I'm good Elliot, a lot going on this week. I saw that the members of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to treasury telling them that they need to get moving on the beneficial ownership registry. So that'll be interesting to see what happens.

We obviously, talked last week about the FATF Plenary. We've also chatted about the comment letter we've filed with The Antiquities Coalition. There was something that was relevant here today. Well, it came out this week from INTERPOL. INTERPOL for people that don't remember or know, that's an organization, that services I think, over 194 member countries in terms of data, it's a police organization, but they help share and access data on crimes, criminals, and technical support. So, INTERPOL has been around for obviously quite a long period of time. So we don't typically see things from them, but they came out with a pretty interesting study the other day that I know you and I chatted about.

Elliot Berman: Yeah. So, they did a survey of participating countries, many of which participated in the survey, not all about assessing crimes against cultural property in 2020. They've done this for a number of years because they had a fairly large group of comparative statistics to the 2019 study.

But, you know, we have certainly talked about art antiquities, and they really did a focus on the impact and the breadth of illegal antiquity activity and talked about what the impacts are on the countries and the globe.

John Byrne: Yeah, and during the pandemic. So, I mean, I think that was the other key here was that the pandemic didn't slow down the criminal activity.

Elliot Berman: Correct. So it was interesting. One of the things they concluded was that, and I'm quoting here. One of the main reasons for this lack of awareness and the lack of awareness is on the magnitude of the problem, "remains the absence of specialized police units solely dedicated to crimes related to cultural property, as well, dedicated databases of stolen works of art linked to INTERPOL's database."

So it's interesting. I'm aware that the FBI has a specialty art unit, and I know the New York Police force does, and I'm sure some other large city ones do, but there's a lot of countries where police are severely underfunded. And, you know, having folks who really focus on this and really understand the details of how it's happening is critical to successful enforcement.

John Byrne: Right. And they have a couple of tools that they mentioned, which can help law enforcement. One is a stolen works of art database. They say has over 52,000 objects that both the general public and law enforcement get access to. And then, in May of this year, they launched an ID art mobile application that allows again, law enforcement and others to gain mobile access to the database.

So you can report cultural sites that are potentially at risk. So I think those tools become really interesting as well. One of the examples is not funny, but I thought it was really interesting. One of the examples that they include in the press release. As they say, following a tip-off from a coin dealer in London, the Spanish National Police recovered three gold coins dating from the Roman empire.

And two individuals were arrested, and they wanted to sell one of them, which had been stolen back in Switzerland in 2012. And they were worth an estimated 200,000 euros on the black market. So, the notion that we've seen from a lobbying standpoint, especially in the United States, that you coin dealers and others say we shouldn't have regulations on BSA.

Well, again, this is just one example, but clearly, this is also part of the theft of cultural artifacts. So I thought that was interesting. And then they mentioned some of the other survey data showed that marked increases in what they're calling illicit excavations and in the Americas, 187% increase, which is crazy.

They think in part because of the pandemic, they were less protected and maybe more open to illicit excavation. So obviously, the pandemic has exacerbated, in some cases, some of the thefts and movement of these artifacts.

Elliot Berman: Yeah. I think the elicit excavation is an important point for people to think about. A lot of what gets reported tends to be the theft of masterpieces of art or museum collection items, either directly from the museums or the collections. Or while they're in transit for some reason. But, there are a lot of artifacts that are still out there in the world that are at protected sites, at least officially protected, but not protected by staff or electronic surveillance or things like that. And there's a lot of it going on. You quoted a 187% increase in the Americas. The increase in Asia and South Pacific was 3,800, 12%.

John Byrne: Yeah. Quite a large number.

Elliot Berman: Yeah. That's a big jump. So, and part of it is that they talk about the fact that archeological and paleontological sites just aren't as heavily protected.

John Byrne: Right.

Elliot Berman: But you know, again, if the risk of doing it were high enough, that would be a piece of a protective process.

John Byrne: Right. So this is the fourth survey they have done. It can be downloaded off INTERPOL's website, Assessing Crimes Against Cultural Property, 2020. As we mentioned, there are some additional tools that they've created.

But they also give some recommendations and some examples of what are common methods that move this, like hiding goods and luggage, transport with falsified documents, or obviously hiding cultural property and other objects. So they give you a lot of good information. I guess to your point, because there isn't a sufficient number of police divisions dedicated to this, this is something that the public can pay attention to and hopefully prevent as well as law enforcement.

Elliot Berman: Yeah, the ID art mobile application is actually available to the public.

John Byrne: Right, exactly.

Elliot Berman: You know, not that we all want to become as we used to say Junior G-Men, but you know, the idea of, being able to pay attention, to you know what's in its rightful place and what's not, for some people who are involved in those kinds of things or are active museum-goers or things like that, there is the opportunity to participate and be of help.

John Byrne: That's right.

Elliot Berman: Okay. So, I'll do the first shameless plug, and then you can do the second one. The first one is [we] hope you enjoyed this and our other ones [podcasts]. We're available to you wherever you get your podcasts, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

And John, [do] you want to mention our next webinar?

John Byrne: Yeah. The next webinar is going to be on November 16th at one o'clock Eastern time. That'll definitely be a different one that we know is going to be helpful to folks, and that's Criminal Investigations for Financial Institutions: A how-to that benefits both Law Enforcement and the financial sector.

So learning from each other, we'll have some current law enforcement, individuals, and bankers. They're going to talk about what works, what the challenges are, and how we can improve our partnership going forward.

Elliot Berman: Sounds great.

All right. I will talk to you next week. Have a good weekend and stay healthy.

John Byrne: Take care. Talk to you.

Elliot Berman: Bye-bye.