Art collectors in West are helping to fund ISIL


Special to WorldTribune.com

The illicit trade of antiquities in the West is helping to fund the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) terror organization.

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria has put a dent in ISIL’s other funding streams, so the jihadists increasingly rely on the sale of artifacts pilfered from areas under their control.

ISIL has made millions on the sale of stolen artifacts.
ISIL has made millions on the sale of stolen artifacts.

Many of the plundered antiquities wind up in the hands of Western art collectors.

Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, there has been a 145 percent increase in imports of Syrian cultural property and a 61 percent increase in imports of Iraqi cultural property, according to U.S. Customs.

Through the use of “middle men” who have no problem moving the stolen goods, ISIL is making millions of dollars trading mainly in stoneworks, statues and gold.

“I have seen one piece sold for $1.1 million,” a “middle man” told the BBC. “It was a piece from the year 8500BC.”

The man said he pays smugglers handsomely to get the artifacts, which are sold mostly in Western Europe. “Turkish merchants sell it to dealers in Europe. They call them, send pictures… people from Europe come to check the goods and take them away.”

ISIL not only profits from the smuggled antiquities, but also regulates black market profits. Forces who raided a compound of one of ISIL’s leaders found extensive records concerning plundered artifcacts.

“Western buyers purchase antiquities at depressed prices after they have passed hands from looters, smugglers or middlemen, creating greater incentive to loot and smuggle,” a report in the UK’s Guardian said.

Some of the items have even appeared an the eBay auction website. The FBI has issued a warning that looted artifacts are on the market.

The Guardian report said that “undercover investigations have confirmed that illicit goods have reached buyers in Europe and the U.S.”

Some collectors may believe they are “saving” antiquities from Syria and Iraq as ISIL has destroyed many significant ancient historical sites. “This reasoning is facetious because removing antiquities from their historical contexts and into private collections without proper archaeological research contributes nothing to the historical record or the public,” according to the Guardian report.

American and European legislators have proposed laws to reduce the influx of stolen artifacts.

“Collectors should be made aware that there are dangers other than legal penalties,” the Guradian report said.

“At resale, lower prices are generated for objects without clear ownership histories. Provenance (an object’s ownership history) is considered during the valuation process, and pieces with strong provenance typically sell for significantly higher prices. If a work is revealed to be looted, there may be a cloud on its title that vitiates its value and makes the work vulnerable to seizure.”

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