Terrorism is a global problem and organisations are financed by various means, one of which is the illicit trafficking of cultural property. This is a crime with a particular modus operandi but which can coexist with other crimes such as arms trafficking or human trafficking.
EL PAcCTO and the EU Global Facility joined forces to discuss and reflect on the phenomena of terrorist financing, organised crime and the illicit trafficking of cultural property with experts from Latin America and the European Union. Specifically, 12 specialists from Argentina, Spain, Panama and Peru took part in the webinar, together with representatives from Eurojust, Europol, the Council of Europe and the United Nations. In addition, an introduction on the topic was delivered by lawyer Marta Suárez Mansilla, Ana Vico, professor at the University Rey Juan Carlos and Donna Yates, professor at the University of Maastricht.
The three experts introduced the characteristics of the illicit market in cultural godos, outlining these conclusions:
- The main characteristic of the illicit trade in cultural property is that the profit is made by moving from the illegal field to the legal one. That is why it is important to focus on the process of importing cultural property.
- The cooperation of traders who are not involved in this illicit market and who are also victims of all the illegal networks is very important. This illegal market must be combated from within the market itself with a unified regulation.
- Looting is a tricky phenomemon as it involves human commitment and a lot of experience. That is why the activity is often carried out on a smaller scale and with small objects such as gold and silver coins. They can be easily hidden and can be melted down if there is no buyer.
Coordination between institutions to combat a complex crime
Illicit trafficking in cultural property is fought through intelligence and information, with investigations and subsequent prosecution, but customs is often the first agency to identify the criminal activity. For this reason, Panama’s customs director insisted on the need for coordination between institutions, and for the importance of dealing with the issue from a multidisciplinary point of view.
From the police point of view, experts from the Guardia Civil, the Spanish National Police and Europol presented successful operations such as Operation Pandora and Operation Harmakhis against the illicit trafficking of cultural property. For their part, Europol experts highlighted the importance of the online market, which has grown in recent years. They stressed a the challenge online markets represent for security forces.
Representatives of the Public Prosecutor’s Offices of Argentina and Peru outlined their experience in the fight against this type of crime. Neither country has specific cases of terrorist financing, but other crimes such as money laundering linked to trafficking in cultural property do exist.
International experience and harmonisation of legislation
At the European Union level, the Eurojust agency intervenes proactively, always at the request of judicial and prosecutorial authorities, seeking international coordination between jurisdictions in cases with a transnational dimension.
The United Nations focuses on new trafficking routes such as the use of the Cocaine Route that links the Sahel with Latin America to traffic cultural goods. Therefore, there is a risk in Latin America with critical points such as Panama, Ecuador and Colombia.
Together with the representative of the Council of Europe, they emphasised the need to harmonise legislation on this type of crime to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of offenders. In addition, the Council of Europe presented the Nicosia Convention for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, which has so far been signed by seven countries worldwide.
100 representatives of Latin American and European Union institutions involved in this type of crime participated in the webinar.