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Prosecute looted antiquities dealers for war crimes: Clooney Foundation

Dealers who trade looted antiquities with armed groups should be prosecuted for complicity in war crimes or financing terrorism, the Clooney Foundation for Justice said Wednesday.

“The looting of antiquities is not a victimless crime,” said Anya Neistat, legal director of The Docket, a project of the foundation launched by actor George Clooney and his wife, Amal, a human rights lawyer.

“The pillage of cultural artifacts is destructive physically and socially, and the sale of conflict antiquities enables armed groups to fund conflict and terrorism and other crimes against civilians,” Neistat said.

“The Docket calls on law enforcement agencies in market countries to launch investigations and prosecutions of antiquities dealers when there is evidence of their complicity in war crimes and financing of terrorism,” she added.

Neistat unveiled the results in Washington on Wednesday of a two-year investigation into the theft of antiquities in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen and their sale in the United States and Europe.

Antiquities trafficking has been linked to armed groups such as the Islamic State organization and the former Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, allowing them to purchase arms and finance violent attacks, Neistat said.

According to The Docket, IS made “tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars” from looting antiquities, which was a key source of its financing. 

IS, which controlled a wide swathe of Syria and Iraq between 2011 and 2016, had a sub-department for antiquities with a system of taxation and licenses, Neistat said.

Stolen antiquities often transit through Turkey, Lebanon, Eastern Europe or Thailand before being offered up by dealers or in private sales.

Recovered items have been returned to their countries of origin but dealers tend to receive little more than a slap on the wrist, according to The Docket.

“Prosecution for serious crimes are a critical element to break the cycle and to make sure that the market is dismantled,” Neistat said.

The report comes shortly after a former director of the Louvre Museum in Paris was charged with conspiring to hide the origin of archaeological treasures that investigators suspect were smuggled out of Egypt.

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