Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Italian Antiquities Looting Prosecutor: Legal Frameworks Hampering Efforts to Recover Artifacts and Deter Looting

A quite interesting interview with Paolo Giorgio Ferri by Fabio Isman in the online Art Newspaper. Some of the key points, or at least claims, made by the former Italian prosecutor :

  • restitutions concern only a tiny fraction of illicitly-dug artifacts that have appeared on the antiquities market
  • we are aware of only about 30% of the looting that has occurred
  • Italian prosecutors have a database of at least 200,000 objects that have appeared on the black market 
  • investigations restricted to recoveries on behalf of a single country don't make sense, since the dealers often handle materials from multiple countries
  • tamping down on looting and smuggling of illicit antiquities in Italy has led to organized crime moving to Bulgaria in search of more easily harvested artifacts
  • Discrepancies between the legislation in different countries make it difficult to get assistance (Switzerland viewed Medici's crime as a tax crime and therefore not a matter for assistance)
  • Italian law is too lenient, both in terms of penalties and in terms of its statute of limitations, which encourages criminals to bank illegally excavated objects for five years
  • ancient coins are often of crucial importance for dating an archaeological site or tomb
  • UNESCO is considering updated the 1970 Convention to include requirements for states to set up specialized antiquities crime teams, but unless international law is also amended to make it possible for these national teams to coordinate efforts, crimes will go unreported by one country to another, and efforts to stop crime in one country will simply shift it elsewhere.
Ferri doesn't suggest many solutions, though he does say Italy would be better served if it adopted something like Iraq's legislation which makes it a serious crime to not turn over to police objects excavated after 1995. While such legislation didn't do much to stem the looting of Iraq's sites, because there have been no antiquities police deployed to enforce it, similar laws under Saddam worked well (at least until the sanctions and no-fly zones eroded enforcement capabilities. Italian carabinieri armed with such a law would certainly be able to do even more than they are doing now, which is already considerable.

No comments: