The UN calls art crime a global industry and the FBI estimates losses running as high as $6 billion annually - and this surveyed number is probably low because it only includes a third of the 192 member countries of the United Nations. Art and antiquities theft ranks fourth in transnational crime after drugs, money laundering, and illegal arms shipments. But in the US art theft didn’t even become a federal crime until 1995. Art crimes run the gamut from fraud to theft to looting and trafficking. Today, according to the Justice Department, the annual value of illegally trafficked art and cultural objects is surpassed only by the illegal trades in drug and gun smuggling. For savvy thieves, art has become a form of currency. It’s easy to move across borders and few in law enforcement are trained to flag suspicious items. In fact, everything fueling the legitimate global economic revolution - the Internet, efficient shipping, mobile phones, and customs reforms (particularly in the EU) makes it easier for thieves to smuggle stolen art. And pulling off a successful crime relies on close ties between the illegitimate and legitimate art world. The art world. Mysterious and seductive. It’s commerce based less on facts and figures than intangibles like reputation and intuition. And it’s ripe for exploitation.moreless
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