Illegal activities involving cultural property have increased during the global Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new investigation by the international police organization Interpol.
In 2020, the rate of illegal excavations of cultural heritage increased globally beyond pre-pandemic levels, according to Interpol’s report “Assessing Crimes Against Cultural Property”. Africa has seen an increase in search offenses from 44 incidents in 2019 to 153 in 2020. The largest increase occurred in Asia and the South Pacific, from 42 to 1,563.
In total, over 35,000 items have been reported stolen around the world, the majority of them classified as numismatic coins, which include coins and other currencies. Interpol said archaeological sites enjoy less official protection than other heritage sites such as museums. The report also suggests that sites located in conflict zones are particularly vulnerable to illicit excavations.
In a statement, Corrado Catesi, coordinator of Interpol’s art theft unit, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on criminals involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, but no Has by no means diminished the demand for these items. or the occurrence of such crimes. As countries implemented travel restrictions and other restrictive measures, criminals were forced to find other ways to steal, illegally search and smuggle cultural property. “
Thefts of works of art from museums were a smaller part of the illegal activity than usual, according to the survey. Crimes involving museum property declined from 2019 to 2020 in all regions except North America and South America.
The Interpol investigation suggested that restrictions on institutions, as well as an increase in working from home, may have limited the possibilities of staging robberies. But, according to Interpol, there is always cause for concern about organized groups that commit crimes against cultural property.
The investigation indicated that these unions remain ready to steal treasures when the opportunity arises, sometimes even on commission from collectors in search of specific objects. In May, Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, and the World Customs Organization joined forces in Operations Athena II and Pandora IV to target networks of art and antiques traffickers. The operations, which have involved 103 countries ranging from Afghanistan to Spain to Italy, have so far recovered more than 19,000 objects.