Flashmag Digizine Edition Issue 107 July 2020 - Page 88


For example, the author of Gomorra tells the story of the corruption of an Italian judge with a work by Botticelli. Prized by mafia, works of art ensure a certain social prestige at the same time as a certain economic gain.

In this regard, the Camorra specialist, Marcello Ravveduto, explains: "Mafiosis do not like beauty, but appearances. They belong to the oligarchy of the rich and want to adopt their codes [The works of art have] first been the expression of social power before being, more recently, that of economic power ” . Massimo Carminati, nicknamed "the Last King of Rome", owned more than a hundred works including Picasso, Guttoso, Pollock and Warhol. Behind this art trafficking , a fine organization is being established. From looters of ancient relics known as "tombaroli" to art dealers and restorers of works of art, the works pass through different hands before often ending up far from their country of origin. Thus, an antique vase unearthed by an Italian peasant in exchange for a pig ended up in the window of an art gallery in Switzerland.

To generate ever more money (an estimated turnover of around 10 billion dollars for this traffic) the mafia do not hesitate to operate real burglaries in the largest museums. Thus, as Olivier Tosseri reports in his article "When the Mafia takes control of works of art", in November 2015 works by Rubens, Tintoretto and Bellini worth 15 billion euros in total were stolen from the Verona museum and ended up in Ukraine. Globalization and the intense flow of goods make it all the more complicated today to track down works and it is estimated that 90% of the stolen works have never been found.

The illicit trade of cultural property, attracts the attention of organized criminal groups. Also, the operation "Pandora" 53 is an evidence that law enforcement agencies are trying to fight back. Launched jointly by Spain and Cyprus in November 2016, this police operation required the involvement of the authorities of 18 European countries.

Aiming at a network of illicit trafficking in cultural property mainly coming from conflict zones, Operation Pandora led to the arrest of 75 peoples and the seizure of more than 3,000 cultural objects. This example shows that organized crime networks include not only thieves and criminals but also corrupt officials and art market professionals, who facilitate the laundering of these objects.

Another interesting case concerns the theft of two paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Stolen in 2002, these works were found in September 2016 near Naples, in a house belonging to a drug lord linked to the Camorra. It was when investigating the cocaine trafficking carried out by this mafia clan that the police were informed that the Camorra was probably in possession of the paintings. This case demonstrates that illicit trafficking in cultural property can go hand in hand with other illegal trades, as organized crime groups tend to diversify the "portfolio" of their activities.

In France, it is forbidden to import ancient objects from conflict zones since 2016. Some cities like Brussels nevertheless have become hubs of this environment, due to more conciliatory regulations. The authorities try by all means to intercept historical works which are sold on the black market. For this, customs officials are investigating in particular on social networks, favorite platforms of traffickers to get in touch with collectors. This trafficking has become a way for terrorist groups to finance themselves. Traffickers focus primarily on countries where conflicts have just broken out. The ruins are increasing particularly in Libya. If you search in the right place, it is possible to find objects on the street that are then invaluable once put on sale.

If the subject of the trafficking of antiques has appeared on the front of the media scene in recent years, especially due to the activity of Daesh for whom it would be one of the main financial resources, it is very old with particularly complex cogs.

At the height of the conflict, figures reaching several hundred millions of dollars were relayed, based on extrapolations of figures published in a report by The Guardian. Large-scale clandestine excavations at Syrian sites such as Mari and Apamea were presented as evidence of an attack on the Syrian archaeological heritage organized by Daesh. The scope of artifacts that was looted under the aegis of Daesh was intended to be industrial.

However, it is not enough to make a hole to find something there. The scale of the destruction on the sites is in no way proportional to the number of pieces looted. If the information coming from partially destroyed sites is catastrophic because it testifies to the disappearance forever of archaeological contexts hitherto preserved, they do not allow to evaluate the number, the nature the quality and therefore the market value of the plundered material.

Flashmag July 2020 www.flashmag.net