Although a formal criminological definition for art crimes does not exist, art and cultural property crimes—which includes theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines—are “a looming criminal enterprise with estimated losses in the billions of dollars annually.
“1 The illegal trafficking of cultural property is an extremely profitable underground black market. There are several reasons why committing a crime related to art nowadays is easier than ever before. First of all, the current situation of political instability, corruption and the easily changeable laws concerning the repatriation of cultural artefacts, which plagues some of the “source countries” of cultural property, encourages the illegal trafficking of those items. Additionally, the penetrable borders and the improved methods of transportation are another element which adds to the flourishment of the illegal trafficking. Items of cultural property are often stolen from museums, private collections, archaeological sites but also churches. Notably, churches, galleries and museums put themselves in a security disadvantage, since they are publicly open, in comparison with private collections, where a higher level of security can be attained. Unfortunately, from the objects that are taken from all the above-mentioned locations, only an estimated five to ten percent are ever recovered within a period which usually covers more than thirteen years.
2 The commitment of crimes of such nature could be separated into two categories; the first circumstance is crimes of art which are committed during periods of war, military occupation or colonial rule and the second one is cultural property which is looted during periods of peace. The cultural property during these two circumstances is either plundered, taken by different capitulation agreements or looted, smuggled and illegally excavated in order to be promoted to the underground international market, where no respect is being shown to these objects and the eventuality of damage is usually very high. 1 “Art Theft”, FBI. https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/art-theft 2 “Restitution & Repatriation: The Return of Cultural Objects”, DePaul College of Law