Protecting Cultural Heritage across Europe

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11 January 2012

“Crimes against Cultural Heritage” was the title and subject of a CEPOL course held in Rome, Italy on 28 November – 2 December 2011. Since the previous edition of this course last May had focused on providing knowledge about prevention strategies in order to ensure the security of museums and archaeological sites, this course’s main aim was exploring all the different kinds of crimes against Cultural Heritage and the most relevant criminal attacks. The event was organised with the assistance of the CEPOL Secretariat in conjunction with the Italian CEPOL Unit, the Department for Protection of Cultural Heritage (Carabinieri Corps) and support from Poland as well as Interpol.

Twenty two participants from 13 Member States and one Candidate Country took part in the course on protection of cultural heritage, the content of which represents a priority for INTERPOL and was specifically analysed and prepared during the Polish EU Presidency. Three liaison officers from Slovenia (who also represent Croatia in Rome), France and Spain attended the course reflecting the importance of this topic with regards to European police cooperation.

The activity was hosted at the Scuola di Perfezionamento per le Forze di Polizia and was opened by Alberto Deregibus, Lieutenant Colonel from the Department of Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, who welcomed the participants and experts outlining the structure and the objectives of the week long course. The extensive programme included topics such as:

  • Works of Art: Heritage and Richness of humanity
  • Prevention and protection
  • Investigation and fight against illicit trafficking
  • The counterfeiting of works of art
  • Vandalism against cultural property

Marina Schneider, expert from UNIDROIT, explained the main international instruments used by UNESCO and UNIDROIT in the fight against illicit activities. She also focused on the ENFOPOL 341 document from October 2011, a study on preventing and fighting illicit trafficking in cultural goods in the European Union. With regards to legal aspect, the study focuses on criminal and civil legislation as well as special provisions arising from legislation concerning heritage protection and control of the movement of cultural goods, at international, European and national level. Particular attention was paid to the question of online sales - an as yet less secure sector - and to heritage that is more exposed than others, to illicit trafficking (archaeological heritage, cultural heritage, private heritage, heritage from countries in a situation of conflict or post conflict).

Each participant delivered a short presentation about their national situation. Rafal Weigel, the Polish expert, gave a particularly interesting overview of the situation in Poland which included data on the size of the phenomenon and the results achieved by the police so far.

Interpol’s actions were presented by Mr Panone, from the “Works of Art” unit, describing Interpol’s main tasks in the field and stressing the importance of prevention, how to fight trafficking in cultural property and developing effective countermeasures.

During a visit to the Department of Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage the participants were informed about the “TPC database”. The evolution of this database project, implemented also in the framework of the ISEC Program aims to increase information exchange about stolen cultural goods. It is foreseen that the TPC database will benefit from the involvement of a relevant number of countries.

On the day dedicated to counterfeiting, Lt. CC Paolo Salvatori described the Italian experience in the fight against counterfeiting of artworks, in particular of contemporary art and Fabio Carapezza Guttuso, Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, dealt with the counterfeiting of the artworks of Renato Guttuso, one of the most important Italian contemporaneous painters.

Analysis of the more relevant criminal attacks highlighted theft of cultural objects via different methods, marketing of archaeological finds, illicit excavations, illegal exportations and illicit exporting of paintings, often sold through the auction houses. A presentation about the massive use of the web for the sale of cultural property was delivered by Mrs. Penelope Boulud underlining the special investigation unit’s techniques in this field. Illicit trading of books, archive documents and manuscripts were addressed in a presentation entitled “The Vulnerability of Antique Books” by professor Carlo Beccarini. “Protection of the religious Cultural Heritage“ was delivered by experts Francesco Buranelli and Ms Papadopoulos, both in charge of the Pompei archaeological site, described how Italy protects and makes its archaeological sites safe. Thereafter professor Marcello Guaitoli emphasised the importance of aerial surveillance to monitor criminal activity and identify illegal excavations whilst Annalisa Zarattini analysed the protection of underwater archaeological sites. Last but not least, the participants appreciated the lecture given by Fabrizio Carillo on “Vandalism against cultural property – psychological criminal profile” which focused on the psychological aspects related to this kind of criminal offences.

In the field of prevention, a study visit to Galleria Borghese underlined the importance of special security requirements needed for this kind of museum as it is isolated and situated in a big public park in the center of Rome.

Throughout the course attendees were able to hear from general attorney Gustavo Benitez who explained the police force’s activities in the field of fighting against cultural crimes in Ecuador and the importance of international police cooperation.

The Italian Exchange Programme Coordinator Vincenzo Basetti presented the ENFOPOL 342 document in which the Council recommends CEPOL continue to organise training courses for law enforcement officials involved in combating crime against cultural property, including cooperation with UNESCO and the European Judicial Network, also possibly including this topic in future Exchange Programmes. With this in mind participants were invited to assess the possibility of identifying some specific topics to be proposed for an Exchange Programme dealing with protection of cultural heritage. The interesting proposals that rose from this brainstorming session were discussed during workshops held at the Exchange Programme Evaluation meeting held in Prague recently.


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