Saturday, July 16, 2011

International Antiquities Trafficking Ring Busted in U.S.

Two days ago, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced (found via Derek Fincham) that they have made arrests in the first major bust of an antiquities trafficking ring in the U.S. Four men were indicted and three arrested: Salem Alshdaifat, an antiquities dealer who operated Holyhead Numismatics in Michigan; Joseph Lewis, a collector and benefactor of Egyptian antiquities; Mousa Kouli, an antiquities dealer who operated Windsor Antiquities in new York; and Ayman Ramadan, a Jordanian antiquities dealer who operated Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading in Dubai. Ramadan is a fugitive. All four face multiple counts of smuggling and money laundering and face up to 20 years in prison. ICE and Homeland Security agents seized Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and Asian artifacts along with more than a thousand ancient coins in the bust.

Those of you who are already involved in combatting these issues know just how mega exciting this kind of news is. For those of you in the nascent stages of discovering these issues, I can tell you right now that underneath every somber word of every blogger reporting on this bust is the barely suppressed, hardly verbal exclamation of "AHSDFGSFG YEAH THAT'S RIGHT YOU GUYS! WE'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER. YOU ALL BEST WATCH YOUR ASS NOW BECAUSE ETHICS AND LEARNING AND PRESERVATION OF OUR HISTORY WILL PREVAIL. BOO YA!"

But really, this is serious business.

Why is this bust so important? Because instead of just being able to charge, say, the dealer/middleman, authorities were able to lock down on the biggest players in the scenario. The illicit antiquities trade looks (very) roughly like this:

The U.S. authorities, with help from Egypt, were able to take out the broker, the conduit, the dealer, AND a collector, effectively shutting down a major arm of the illicit antiquities trade.

Larry Rothfield has pointed out some of the most exciting and truly enlightening aspects of this bust, particularly how it definitively demonstrates the international scale of the trade on all levels, from the individuals involved to the artifacts being sold. Check out his blog, as well as this CNN article.

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