Artifact trafficking is a form of financial crime that has been ongoing for years.  “Over 41,000 cultural goods such as coins, paintings and drawings, furniture and musical instruments, porcelain, archaeological and paleontological objects, books and manuscripts and sculptures were seized [in 2017] all over the world as a result of coordinated law enforcement actions.”

Coordinated efforts have proven to be the approach yielding the most success in recovering these pieces of history.  However, the challenges of this illegal trade are no longer simply in the physical transport, but the manipulation of modern technology to market and sell these goods.  The advances of the internet and their marketplaces has created a platform for the advertisement and sale of these cultural goods looted from international historical sites. 

Europol, along with WCO and INTERPOL, operate coordinated units to monitor “thousands of market places, [and] internet announcements in order to detect and seize looted or stolen cultural goods. Only in this area, 63 new criminal investigations have been opened and more than 6 ,00 cultural objects have been seized.”

The fight against art and artifact trafficking can be more successful if the coordinated law enforcement effort expands to include more agencies – including those groups with specialized internet surveillance.   Financial institutions can contribute to the fight by taking the following steps:

  • Maintaining a robust KYC program to ensure art dealers and auctioneers are attributed the correct business line;
  • Volumes of activity for these customers are consistent with their profiles;
  • Investigate frequent transaction with entities incorporated in one jurisdiction, banking in a second jurisdiction;
  • Monitoring funnel account activity; and
  • Knowing your customer’s customers.