Trafficking in Stolen Artwork

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14 July 2011

Italy’s Scuola di Perfezionamento per le Forze di Polizia hosted CEPOL course “Trafficking in stolen artworks” in Rome on 23 - 27 May 2011. The 2011 edition of this activity explored prevention strategies in order to enhance the security of museums and archaeological sites. The event was organised in conjunction with the Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Carabinieri Corps), with support from France as well as Interpol and UNESCO.

Twenty-five participants from 15 EU Member States, one associated country and the Vatican City took part in this event.

The course was jointly opened by Rossanna Farina, Head of the Italian CEPOL Unit, and Alberto Deregibus, Course Coordinator (Lieutenant Colonel from the Department of Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage). During the opening session, Ms. Farina presented the organization and the aims of CEPOL whereas Mr. Deregibus outlined the structure and the objectives of the week long course.

The course’s first presentation was given by Mr Panone, Interpol “Works of Art” unit, describing Interpol’s main tasks in the field. These are summarized as follows:

  1. to centralise information supplied by the NCBs and other partners such as UNESCO and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) which are involved in countering illicit trade of cultural property;
  2. to promptly circulate information received to its member countries and official partners by using the I-24/7 network. This is a fast cost-effective telecommunications system based on internet technology that complies with the required high security standards. The use of secured e-mail allows any type of criminal information of international significance including photos, fingerprints, images, etc. to be safely exchanged;
  3. to organize international conferences and training courses on how to fight trafficking in cultural property and help its member countries to develop effective countermeasures.

The cases and relevant actions presented emphasised the crucial role played by the human factor in cultural heritage vulnerability; in this regard, some feasible solutions aimed at reducing risk factors were suggested.

Day one of the course ended with the participants visiting the Department of Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage where a presentation about the organisation and the aims of UNESCO was delivered by Mr Planche, UNESCO Division of Cultural Objects and Intangible Cultural Heritage. Participants were very impressed with the potential of the UNESCO website (www.unesco.org), notably its ad-hoc section for national legislation of its Member States and the various regional and worldwide programmes promoted to protect cultural heritage.

The following day, Fabio Carapezza Guttuso, Ministry of Cultural Heritage, dealt with museum security – surveillance and control activities and Mons. José Del Rio, Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, presented “Protection of the Cultural Heritage of the Catholic Church in religious museums”.

Significant support to the course was given by Colonel Stèphane Gauffeny, Head of the French “Central Office for the fight against trafficking in Cultural Property” (OCBC). He spoke about museums and archaeology in France and stressed that prevention in his country goes “hand in hand“ with the French Ministry of Culture via three main tools: an open source guide, training, and museum security procedures.

Ms Papadopoulos, the person in charge of the Pompei archaeological site, described how Italy protects and makes its archaeological sites safe. In particular, she emphasised the importance of aerial surveillance to monitor criminal activities and identify illegal excavations. Such activities allow the national territory to be accurately mapped for prevention purposes by police units tasked with protecting cultural heritage.

During the training activity, participants focused their attention on a Carabinieri proposal of partnership in the framework of an ISEC Project aimed at increasing information exchange about stolen cultural goods.

The session dealing with security of museums and archaeological sites culminated with Ms Menegazzi, International Council of Museums (ICOM), presenting the international standards developed by her organisation. She described the ICOM’s mission and its efforts to promote both circulation of the Code of Ethics for Museums and the Museum Emergency Programme (MEP). The MEP was started in 2002 and has to be considered a response to the needs expressed by museum professionals all over the world to develop expertise in the areas of emergency preparedness, response and recovery.

As the course was centered upon prevention, two study visits were made to Castel Sant’Angelo and to the Imperial Fora that emphasized special security requirements arising from the need to provide shops and cafeterias because of the considerable number of daily visitors. At Castel Sant’Angelo, attendees viewed an exhibition entitled 'Art Strength of Unity - Unity Strength of Art' made up of stolen artworks recovered by police forces.

With regards to the need to enhance prevention tools, Mr. Deregibus presented an ad-hoc form for risk mapping of museums currently used in Italy. It is a security check-list which has proved to be very useful for prevention purposes. Interest levels were high, particularly with the Dutch and the English delegates.

On the course’s final day attendees were given the opportunity to hear from public prosecutors involved in the fight against this criminal threat. Italian prosecutor Ferri and Bulgarian prosecutor Solarov respectively discussed “International judicial assistance in criminal matters regarding the restitution of cultural property stolen from museums” and “Survey on methodologies for the security of museums”.

Parallel to this course, a special event took place at Palazzo Farnese (the French Embassy in Italy), i.e. the restitution of a pala portraying Saint Francis of Assisi, stolen in a Nice museum and given back to France as a result of cooperation between the Italian and French authorities tasked with protecting cultural heritage.

The participant from the Pontifical Gendarmerie of the Vatican City State said: “It was a great opportunity for me to attend this course in my two-fold capacity as a gendarme and as security superintendent of the Vatican Museums”.

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