More than 13 thousand objects classified as cultural property were illegally circulating around the world at the end of 2020. The trafficking of such property has grown exponentially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as traffickers, criminal networks and / or terrorists have taken advantage the closure of museums, archaeological sites and less vigilance to carry out their crimes. Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s Deputy Director General for Culture, explains it at Escala in Paris.
According to the specialist, the pandemic has provided traffickers with ideal conditions to steal and move works of art. As an example, he cites that last year a painting by Van Gogh was stolen and in Paris there was an attempt to steal the stones from the Notre Dame Cathedral after the refurbishment work stopped during the first confinement.
“The archaeological sites have had less security and the entire inventory of the works has not followed its normal course. Figures from our partners, Interpol or the World Customs Organization, tell us that illicit traffic, through different forms, has grown enormously from last March onwards, “said Ottone.
The theft of cultural property is not new and countries under armed conflict such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria are among the main victims.
“Ten years ago it was already said that trafficking in art objects is the third most profitable traffic after drugs and weapons,” concludes Ottone, adding that in many cases the proceeds finance the activities of organized crime or terrorism.
To combat the trafficking of cultural property, Unesco proposes to train countries and guide them to the establishment of similar legislation. “In a region like Latin America, for example, all countries have different laws,” he explained.