Funding terror through antiquities sales in New York?


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AML/CFT scrutiny focuses on ISIS profits from antiquities sales

For all its efforts to prevent terrorism and cut off the financing of terror, the U.S. apparently needs to look closer to home. New York, specifically, and the thriving discrete market in antiquities allegedly looted by the Islamic State from sites in Syria and Iraq.

The Wall Street Journal in late May reported on investigations into a prominent antiquities-trading family with galleries in New York and Geneva. An arrest in Switzerland turned up antiquities without proper provenance documentation. Authorities expect this arrest and subsequent investigation to “shed light on one of the art world’s best-kept secrets: how ancient objects plundered in the battle zones of the Middle East end up in posh art collections thousands of miles away,” according to the Journal.

Investigations in Switzerland, France, and the U.S. are working to piece together the trail of looted artifacts, the couriers, the brokers, and the buyers in these sales that are known to fund ISIS military and terror operations. The Aboutaam brothers and their galleries, described at length by the Journal, are at the center of various investigations, but no charges have yet been filed. Lawyers for the brothers assert that they conduct their business in an entirely transparent and legal manner.

According to Arts Economics, more than 40 percent of the trade in international art occurs in the U.S., and most of that in New York. Looted and otherwise illegal art enters the U.S. through smuggling channeled through courier services, cargo transit, and more and more through carry-on luggage and passenger luggage.

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