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Sunday, February 05 2023

Cultural property crimes on rise during Covid, says Interpol survey

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New Delhi: Crimes involving Cultural properties have witnessed a rise during the Covid-19 pandemic and in some cases even surged to new heights, according to a latest survey by international police organisation Interpol.

Interestingly, the new survey, a follow-up to the four previous surveys on crimes against cultural property (2013 – 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019) was collected through a questionnaire sent to all 194 National Central Bureaus (NCBs). The data was received from 72 countries, however, India is not in the list. The list has countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Australia, Germany, Israel among others.

In total, 854,742 cultural property objects were seized globally in 2020, including numismatic items (coins, money or medals), paintings, sculptures, archaeological items and library materials. More than half of these items – 567,465 objects – were seized in Europe, underscoring the impact of police units specialized in cultural property crimes, which are present in most of the region’s countries.

Notably, marked increases in illicit excavations were observed in Africa (32 per cent), the Americas (187 per cent) and, especially, the Asia and South Pacific (3,812 per cent) compared to 2019. This could be because archaeological and paleontological sites are by nature less protected and more exposed to illicit excavation.

According to the International Council of Museums (ICOM), 95 per cent of the world’s museums were forced to temporarily close their doors to protect their visitors in 2020. Some notable examples include the theft of three masterpieces from the Christ Church College in Oxford, UK; the theft of a painting by Van Gogh from the Singer Laren museum in Amsterdam; and the emergence of a new scams of artists on social media, says the report.

Amid Covid-19, more than 56,400 cultural goods seized and 67 arrested Law enforcement and customs authorities from 31 countries participated in Operation Pandora V, the survey said.

A minority of cultural property crimes occurred in museums across all world regions, the INTERPOL survey shows, and all world regions except the Americas showed a lower proportion of such crimes occurring in museums compared to the previous year.

“The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on criminals involved in the illicit traffic of cultural property but did not in any way diminish the demand for these items or the occurrence of such crimes,” said Corrado Catesi, Coordinator of INTERPOL’s Works of Art unit.

“As countries implemented travel restrictions and other restrictive measures, criminals were forced to find other ways to steal, illegally excavate and smuggle cultural property,” the survey says. These include archaeological objects, furniture, coins, paintings, musical instruments and sculptures.

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