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Stolen Gods: Criminological Approaches to the Illicit Trade in Antiquities

Thanks to ImPACT! Productions and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, I had the honour of presenting this talk in Kathmandu, Nepal on 14 July 2015.

Donna Yates

on 6 September 2018

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Transcript of Stolen Gods: Criminological Approaches to the Illicit Trade in Antiquities

Criminological Approaches to the Illicit Trade in Antiquities
The Trafficking Culture Project
Moving forward: some ideas
Stolen Gods
Call for expertise
Stolen Gods
Dr Donna Yates
We conduct academic research
We aren't an NGO or a lobbying group
But it is academic research with a practical purpose... that is immediately relevant to the real world
We engage in the foundational studies that provides lawmakers, stakeholders, and heritage professionals with the information they need to craft good laws and implement effective policy.
To do this:
(because only with a diverse tool set can we fix what is broken)
What info can we gather about cultural property trafficking if we focus our attention on the CRIMES, not just the objects?
The structure of the criminal networks

The motivations of the criminals at all points of the smuggling "chain"

The "weak links" of the chain
And based on this type of research:
We can intervene to disrupt the crime
And see if interventions are effective
This is different than repatriation, but it can aid in that process.
Two case studies:
What we can learn by applying criminological thinking to this problem.
"The study of the nature, extent, management, causes, control, consequences, and
prevention of criminal behavior
, both on the individual and social levels"
A wealth of research focused on understanding the connection between behavior and regulation
Theoretical perspectives on the issue: criminology of the illicit market
Transnational organised crime:
upperworld/underworld vs grey market

White-collar crime:
power, techniques of neutralisation, differential association

criminalisation vs regulation, or ‘punishment vs persuasion’

market reduction

Routine activities theory:
motivated offender, suitable target, absence of capable guardian

Situational crime prevention:
target hardening

Global anomie:
criminogenic asymmetries (extension of Mertonian strain)
A regulatory approach
three main analytical frameworks for crime preventions
self regulation
controls eg. audits
‘Really’ responsive to the attitudinal settings, cognitive frameworks, and institutional
environment of the regulatory regime
This is the work of my colleagues:
Prof Simon Mackenzie & Ms Tess Davis (JD)
Their academic papers on this research are available for free on our site:
10 years of work in the country (Tess)
1 summer of targeted criminology research (Tess and Simon)
Recently there have been several high profile repatriations to Cambodia from US museums and auction houses
10th century statues from the Prasat Chen sanctuary at Koh Ker
Depict battle between Bhima and Duryodhana with Hanuman and other attendants kneeling.
Although Ms Davis was involved in these returns, that is not what I will speak about.
they were looted
they were trafficked
facilitated the smuggling and sale
did they do it
can be done to prevent this
Where were they trafficked on the way to the market?
Who facilitated the smuggling and sale?
Why did they do it?
What results from this work can be used to craft better policy?
1. 'Janus figures' see both sides of the smuggling chain: black market and 'grey' market.

2. Transit ports 'clean' looted objects when they pass through
3. Corruption is a factor, if not at source, during trafficking
4. Criminals that traffic antiquities engage in other crime
5. Documented antiquities are hard to sell and easier to return
How were they looted?
1. Regional brokers who organized looting
2. Organized criminals who acted as the statue trafficking hub: buying from regional brokers and transporting to Thai Border
3. Receiver on Thai side of the border who moved the items to Bangkok
4. A white, western, internationally-known dealer in Bangkok who sold the items to the world market.
5. Museums and collectors who justified their actions and didn't ask questions
Related to extended conflict in the country.
Looting from 1970s until 1998.
Various armed factions, forced looting orders from Khmer Rouge generals
Heavy machinery used, secrecy unneeded
Simply was no law, order, or protection
Thai military and secret services were involved: e.g. Lt Gen Pongpat Chayaphan of Thai police central investigation bureau.
some were paid, many were forced
Regional brokers:
income in a time and place where income was scarce
Organized criminals:
money, control of trafficking networks in region
Thai brokers:
Western dealer:
money, social prestige
Museums and collectors:
social prestige
WHAT can be done to prevent this?
What's relevant beyond Cambodia?
They are vital to the functioning of the criminal network. We need to focus on them
Treat anything from these ports as suspicious; push those govts. to change policy
Include a focus on cultural property, heritage, and art in anti corruption efforts.
Follow up on cultural property during other policing efforts. Kill two birds with one stone?
One smartphone photo can do it.
The National Gallery of Australia Nataraja
Subash Kapoor
Owner: Art of the Past (New York); trading since 1974
2005: Kapoor meets with art dealer Sanjivi Asokan
Specifically orders Chola bronzes (to be stolen)
Asokan decides to target remote temples in poor communities
Disused due to scorpion infestation. Locked.
Sripuranthan Village temple,
Tamil Nadu
Asokan hired local thieves to rob it in Jan 2006
Stole all 8 of the temple's statues in 3 robberies
Including a stunning Shiva as Nataraja.
Asokan paid the thieves about $6000
Kapoor paid him about $30,000 for this shipment.
He bought several NEW Chola-style statues
He mixed them all together and got a permit to export MODERN statues.
Chairman and director of National Gallery of Australia visit Kapoor in New York to see the pieces.
Kapoor provides them with documents that show the pieces were out of India before 1970.
The documents were forgeries.
Due diligence?
Director set up an 'investigating committee'.
It never met.
Were told pieces were bought in 1970 from Delhi's Fine Art Museum.
They did not contact the museum.
Were told that Kapoor bought them in US from a Sundanese diplomat's widow.
Never called her.
Looked up her home on Google Maps.
They didn't contact the stolen idol wing of the Tamil Nadu Police.
Although they did look at the idol wing's website in 2009 when the Nataraja was on there...
Is this 'Collection Envy' from a 'New' museum?
Theft discovered in 2008
Heritage officials came to remove the statues for protection...
They were gone
Local thieves caught within 6 days of discovery of theft.
Asokan was arrested in March 2009
Kapoor was arrested in Germany in 2011
He is now on trial in India.
Kapoor's New York warehouse raided in 2012
$20mil worth of 'stolen goods' found there
Including 3 Chola bronzes in Interpol's database of stolen art.
US has seized ~$100mil in assets from Kapoor
This was the house that NGA saw on Google.
Not really where you'd expect the owner of a $5.6mil statue to live...
There are photos of the Nataraja in the temple
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco; The Art Institute, Chicago; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Musée des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, Paris; Museum fűr Indische Kunst, Berlin; The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; and the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.
Who bought from Kapoor?
Jason Felch
Vijay Kumar
Michaela Boland
The Australian
...to name a few.

Looters: $6,000 (split between ~4 people)
Middleman: $30,000
Dealer: $5,600,000
Janus figure?
Creative compliance?
JUST enough is not enough.
Documentation is VITAL
What info from this case can be used to craft better policy?
2. Transit ports 'clean' looted objects when they pass through
3. Creative compliance is an issue with dealers, collectors, and museums.
4. Museums are not approaching Asian sacred art as 'Antiquities' or even 'Sacred'

5. Documented antiquities: hard to sell and easier to recover
WHAT can be done to prevent this?
What is relevant beyond India?
They are vital to the functioning of the criminal network. We need to focus on them
Treat anything from these ports as suspicious; push those govts. to change policy
Support researchers and let them help anticipate loopholes in policy
Connect these 'art objects' to looting, smuggling, crime, and criminals in the mind of the public
One smartphone photo can convict a kingpin
Do everything to prevent export
This is an incredible burden on an antiquities source country. Should be internationally funded...
Once an antiquity crosses a border it becomes nearly impossible to even find it, let alone recover
Have to depend on other country's laws, police, and interest
Criminals know how to exploit the export system
Police and customs
are our last line of defense against antiquities trafficking and our most vital one.
We need to criminalise the MARKET, not just the SOURCE
"Collectors are the real looters"
Demand causes supply.
Work to make it socially unacceptable ("Blood Antiquities" or like ivory)
Prosecute or sue the criminal buyers.Don't just settle for a returned artefact
Put a face to loss: public awareness in market countries
Inventory, Inventory, Inventory
Document public heritage, private heritage, architectural heritage.
One casual smartphone photo can break up a whole smuggling ring, send criminals to jail, and effect the return of stolen antiquities
Ideally communities would be involved in the documentation process. Even more ideally, the photos of objects would be as public as possible.
There must be a public dialogue: "This art has been documented; it is now unsellable."
Alternative Security
Beyond locks and alarms
This is where the work of criminologists becomes important.
What security strategies can we borrow from other countries? From other types of valuable commodities?
Challenge public sales of your stolen art
even when you know you won't get it back.
This adds a high degree of buyer doubt to sales and undermines the very idea of a market for antiquities.
Three themes
Any information helps
Dr Donna Yates

University of Glasgow
Ivy Lodge, 63 Gibson Street
Glasgow G11 5BL

There is a global demand for cultural property.
Looting destroys context: where the artifact is and what it relates to.

Context is how archaeologists reconstruct the past.

When context is lost, our past is lost
Tangible culture is also intangible
Plus this is illegal and challenges national sovereignty rights
Ugly things happen so that rich people can have pretty things.
Foundations in the colonial era
This is very clear in Nepal, even more so now

Physical heritage is a necessity for community stability
Nepal has a right to its own culture. Foreigners don't get to just take it.

Nepal has a right to set its own heritage laws. Foreigners don't get to disrespect those laws.
In the media, antiquities trafficking is associated with:
Syria & Iraq

You can tell me if this was accurate.
We know this is a longstanding problem
Wrong to associate this with only conflict or disaster
Evidences a fundamental misunderstanding of this criminal enterprise.
Our goal is to get it right.
Disconnect between the idea that heritage is for all and that heritage can be owned.
Culture can be bought (or just taken)
European sense of exceptionalism
Loot in English is from

Even today the antiquities trade is an exploitative system
It takes heritage objects from the hands of the many and places them in the hands of the few
"Source countries" tend to be developing
"Market countries" tend to be wealthy
Power imbalance
Archaeological Site
From a Museum
Violation of public trust
Loss of core educational platform

Underfunding: there is no replacement
Social insecurity
Sacred Site
Loss of living Gods
Breakdown of community cohesion
Challenge to fundamental component of group and individual identity
Theft of Cultural Objects
Destructive physically and socially
Destruction: yes. Looting: yes, but no facts
Media frenzy, no real academic research
In 2012 Trafficking Culture was created thanks to a 4 year grant by the European Research Council
Our research is multidisciplinary
-Lord Colin Renfrew
Digital Monastery Project
Most Sacred Art is inextricably linked to location.
Access is necessary.
Removal to a museum or locked temple/church fundamentally changes the social function of Sacred Art.
Sacred Art is a major component of the living identity of communities
Because Sacred Art is so powerful, there is market demand for it.
It can sell for hundreds or millions.
Sacred Art is stolen, trafficked... but traditional security may be inappropriate
When it is lost, those identities are undermined, leading to instability.
The Goal:
To define the scale and scope of the theft and illegal sale of Sacred Art and to produce actionable, policy-relevant research results to protect the devotional and material integrity of sacred heritage sites.
To understand how and why Sacred Art is stolen so that I can help to protect it.
Latin America
South Asia
Market for sacred art
Many temples/churches
Living tradition
Balance of access and security
1. Vulnerability
3. Markets
2. Networks
What makes a sacred site prone to theft?
Looking at security and community.
How is sacred art moved to the market?
Looking at organization and crime.
Who buys it, where, and why?
Looking at motivation and justification.
3 open access policy documents with recommendations
Vulnerability and site protection
Market management
Networks and trafficking
Unclear. This is empirical academic research.
To understand without having a pre-determined conclusion.
But I think this is important work into poorly understood aspects of a deep problem we have in both preserving physical heritage and protecting the intangible heritage that our communities depend on.
I have only just started.
This will take years.
1. 'Janus figures' see both sides of the smuggling chain: black market and 'grey' market.
Full transcript