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From the black market to the open market

The paths that stolen antiquities follow as they're smuggled are difficult to trace. In this video, Dr Donna Yates discusses trafficking networks.
After an antiquity is looted, the next step on the trafficking chain is smuggling. With some exceptions, the final market for most looted antiquities is not their country of origin. To reach its final point of sale, a looted antiquity often has to cross multiple borders before it’s sold to a collector or a museum. The complex path that antiquities follow between source and market are difficult to trace, yet they are vital to the functioning of this type of crime. As looted antiquities are transported further away from their initial point of theft, two things occur. First, a physical distance grows between the stolen object and the site of the original crime.
And second, the antiquities often gain false or inaccurate documents, which eventually aid in making the object appear legitimate on the open antiquities market. Both of these are important to traffickers and such, some looted antiquities follow what would seem to be strange and convoluted smuggling paths. When drawn on a map, it might seem strange for a looted statue in India to be smuggled first to Hong Kong, then to London, then to the United States before ultimately being sold to a museum in Australia. Yet the criminals know what they’re doing. You see, each different country has different import and export regulations. While some countries might restrict the import of antiquities that have no export permits, other countries are more permissive.
Furthermore, as antiquities are shipped out again– out of these transit ports, as we call them– they often gain the paperwork needed for them to enter a more restrictive country. Yet it might appear strange for– to use the same example– an Indian antiquity to have a Hong Kong export permit. That may be all that is needed under the law of the final sale destination. Criminals know the weaknesses of the global export-import system, and they exploit them. Furthermore, it’s during this transit phase that we see both forgery and fraud, as well as corruption used to facilitate the smuggling of antiquities.
We see fake paperwork being presented, border guards and customs officials accepting bribes, and quite often, ancient objects being declared to be modern handicrafts on shipping documents. These actions are, of course, crimes in their own right.

The paths that stolen antiquities follow as they’re smuggled are difficult to trace. What steps do looted antiquities go through in order to get from their origin to collections? And how are those processes thwarted? In this video, Dr Donna Yates discusses trafficking networks.

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Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime

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