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|20 April, 2019

GCC ‘risks being transit point for smuggled antiquities’

Trafficking of antiquities is one of the potential sources of revenue for IS

Recently recovered artifacts are accounted for at the " Iraq Museum" in Baghdad, May 4, 2003. Museum staff have confirmed 27 pieces are still missing after looters entered the premises in the early hours after the fall of Baghdad. The museum's collection included Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Chaldean and Abbasid artifacts.

Recently recovered artifacts are accounted for at the " Iraq Museum" in Baghdad, May 4, 2003. Museum staff have confirmed 27 pieces are still missing after looters entered the premises in the early hours after the fall of Baghdad. The museum's collection included Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Chaldean and Abbasid artifacts.

REUTERS/Petr Josek Snr

Gulf states are at risk of being used as a transit point for smuggled antiquities from Iraq by militant groups, warned a leading expert.

Preventative measures such as heightened border control in the GCC and countries neighbouring Iraq should be enforced to combat potential trafficking and recover antiquities stolen by militants operating under Da’esh, also known as the Islamic State (IS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

This was highlighted by Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry global affairs director general and Counter ISIS Finance Group (CIFG) multilateral financial co-operation co-ordinator Antonella Uneddu, who said that while the Jihadist group was nearly defeated it still had large hauls of stolen relics, particularly from Iraqi museums.

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“Trafficking of antiquities is one of the potential sources of revenue for IS, and the Middle East could also be a target market for the sale of these antiquities,” she told the GDN.

“(The ICFG is) working on preventing this and we don’t have any concrete evidence – yet we could say that the IS could have stored antiquities in some safe places just waiting for the right opportunity at a later stage to sell it.

“It is crucial to monitor the situation and the Iraqi authorities should be assisted with all expertise to tackle this trafficking.

“It is also crucial to check borders closely, especially of the neighbouring countries as the first passage is through these ports.

“Bahrain being an island is at no less of a risk and needs to be under tight watch.

“If we all work on the prevention together, we can prevent this risk.”

She added that each member state should implement international policies to combat this threat, including the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations.

The Paris-based FATF, established in 1989, is an inter-governmental organisation set up to develop policies to combat money laundering.

Ms Uneddu revealed that work was underway to create a database of antiquities in Iraq, both existing and stolen, with the support of Italian authorities in a bid to prevent further looting and trafficking.

“Assessing the value of the stolen items is not practical as Iraq doesn’t have a national database or catalogue of the antiquities,” she explained.

“The Italians are helping Iraqi authorities to build a database and our people are going to Iraq and are working on it.

“Since 2016 we are providing training to Iraqi officials, including the Ministry of Culture, the Iraqi Military and its Home Affairs.

“We do have incidents of pieces stolen from Iraqi museums, but the details can be revealed only by the Iraqi authorities.”

US Special Forces have uncovered a stockpile of documents illustrating the network’s exploitation of illicit antiquities trafficking as a source of funding. According to the US State Department, receipts for “more than $265,000 in khums tax” suggest total sales transactions worth more than $1.25 million.

Ms Uneddu also underscored the “three-pronged” threat posed by Da’esh, reiterating the “outstanding success” achieved in defeating the group.

“We are all committed as members of the global coalition and the CIFG to prevent any resurgence of D’aesh,” she said.

“Now the threats are posed by insurgent Da’esh cells in the liberated territories, the global network of branches and affiliates in many parts of the world and long actors inspired by the terrorist ideology of Da’esh.

“The last type of threat is particularly concerning countries in Europe.”

She was speaking to the GDN on the sidelines of the 11th CIFG meeting which was held in Bahrain, where US Treasury Department terrorist financing and financial crimes assistant secretary Marshall Billingslea also highlighted the various revenue modes for Da’esh.

The two-day CIFG meeting, which concluded on Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain, discussed major issues related to Da’esh, including updates on the funding for Da’esh, money services business (MSB) risks, enforcement authorities, countering looting and trafficking of antiquities and its branches and networks.

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