Illicit trade in cultural goods – and new technologies to combat it

Illicit trade in cultural goods – and new technologies to combat it

Cultural goods have been collectable since the start of time. The illicit trading of such goods has presumably been happening for just as long.

Although we know that cultural goods are being illicitly traded, we do not know how big the market is, nor can we determine which objects are most at risk. In light of the historical and societal value that cultural heritage has, this is a problem. A coin found in an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus may tell us something about that society, so when that coin is looted and circulated in a Western country, this historical context is lost.

Ecorys and Trafficking Culture, a group of academics that specialise in the illicit trade of cultural goods, are in the process of conducting a study on this topic. Their aim is to improve knowledge about the illicit trade in cultural goods. This has three strands. First, the study should gain insights into the parameters of the illicit trade, including the size of the market, the objects at risk of trade, trafficking routes, operation modes, and the role of organised crime.

Second, the study looks at how law enforcement agencies in the EU are combating the traffickers, how are they organised, which obstacles do they encounter and how do they work together both nationally and internationally? Finally, and relatedly, the study examines what technologies are currently in use to aid officials in their fight, and evaluates the potential of new technologies for assisting with it.

Within this extensive study, a large number of interviews were conducted with various stakeholders from police agencies, customs, public prosecutors, academics, auction houses, art dealers and art investigators. In addition, a large survey took place and snapshot analyses have been taken of several online marketplaces. A report is expected to be published in mid-2019.

8 February 2019

2 minute read

Key Experts

Brigitte Slot

Sector leader