In the mind of the average citizen, the mention of art or antiquities may evoke images of the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or any of a number of similarly solemn and august museum structures throughout the world. But to members of law enforcement worldwide, the mention of art and antiquities unfortunately conjures up the specter of international violent crime and terrorism.
Ronald K. Noble, RKN Global’s founder, articulates the painful but very real truth: That even the most innocuous crimes can be essential building blocks to furthering the plans of the most vicious and violent criminals and terrorists. The case of the Italian crime families and ISIS is representative.
Recent reporting from the Italian daily La Stampa has publicized the connection between ISIS and two Italian crime families, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, and the Neapolitan Camorra. The crime families sell ancient art and antiquities, including statues dating to Greek and Roman times, to discriminating private art collectors who do not care that the goods they are purchasing were stolen.
The crime families themselves purchase the art from ISIS in exchange for weapons—guns, ammunition, and silencers. ISIS itself gets the art and antiquities by stealing it from archeological sites under its control. Terrorists have enslaved local archeologists and forced them to dig for the artwork; in this way, jihadists steal the art and antiquities, get the weapons in exchange, and provide the Italian crime families with artwork to sell and generate revenue for their criminal organizations.
It is a profitable deal that simultaneously finances both international terrorism and organized crime.
RKN Global’s founder, Ronald K. Noble, notes that this scheme is typical of many types of international crime, wherein criminals and terrorists exploit the market for ostensibly “acceptable” products in order to finance their violent and other illegal activities.
The art and antiquities are smuggled from Libya to Italy, and then are ushered into the underground market for sale to unscrupulous buyers. Some of the artifacts end up being laundered and provided with forged provenance documents, and find their way to legitimate buyers and museums who do not know they are purchasing stolen art that is drenched in the blood of the victims of terrorism and organized crime.
Art and antiquities seem an innocuous business, but they are too often put to a lethal and evil purpose in the service of the most abhorrent ideologies and organizations in the world. Law enforcement must remain vigilant in combatting the black market in art and antiquities and disrupting the financing of crime and terrorism.