Art Theft News

News and about the black market in stolen art. To see key statistics and information, click on the main Art Theft, Antique Smuggling and Looting page.

An artifact smuggler was quoted in the media as saying that the ability to smuggle ancient artifacts and antiques from historic sites in Syria has become easier and more rampant since the start of the violent civil conflict.

According to the report, artifact such as vases, silver coins and ceramic figures are all being looted from sties such as the Palmyra. Previously, smugglers had to evade security and intelligence officers in Syria when looting at protected sites. With security forces dealing with the conflict, the professional smugglers and newer amateur looters are able to loot the ancient city.

In an example of the market, one smuggler was offering a ceramic vase from the Idlib Province. Originally, the smuggler offered the vase for $500, but eventually sold it for $150. In another example, smugglers wanted to sell three items for $3,200. They were able to sell a sliver coin for $200.

In general, most of the items are being sold for $300 to $400.

(More information about looting and antique smuggling.)

Source:  Dominique Soguel, “Syrian smugglers enjoy a free-for-all among ancient ruins,” Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2014.

A report by the Associated Press stated that over 10,000 religious artifacts have been stolen over the past 10 years from churches in Macedonia.

It was previously reported that 800 churches and 53 mosques in the country had items taken from their churches.

Among the items stolen were 23 icons created by Dico Zograf, who is one of Macedonia’s most famous painters. Intelligence officials state that Zograf’s artwork can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.

The art thieves generally target churches on the western part of Macedonia where the churches are located in remote villages. Out of the 201 churches and monasteries that are registered as national treasures, two-thirds of them are inadequately guarded without alarms or guards.

Experts believe that most of the illicit trade is organized in Albania, with the artifacts being sold to collectors in Western Europe and Russia.

(Art theft statistics and information.)

Source:  Associated Press, “Macedonia prey to global racket in holy icon theft,” Yahoo News, January 12, 2014.

Artifacts that have been dug up from archeological sites in the state of Johor, Malaysia are being sold on the black market.

Cultural officials from Malaysia state that the total trade in black market artifacts could be near $1 Million. In an example of the trade, a single gold coin that was dug up by looters can be sold for $618 to $3,092 (2,000 to 10,000 Malaysian Ringgit.)

Officials believe that looters have been digging up artifacts over the past 40 year with the buyers of the artifacts bring private antique collectors and shops located across Southeast Asia.

Most of the looters who find the treasures are local villagers and fisherman. By law, the finders are supposed to turn in the artifacts to the government.

(More statistics on art theft.)

Source:  Desiree Tresa Gasper and Zazali Musa, “Ancient treasures for sale on modern eBay,” The Star, December 12, 2013.

According to an inventory check of artwork at the State Museum of Art and Sculpture in Ankara, Turkey, there were over 300 art pieces that were discovered to have been stolen. Included in the missing artwork were items that were found to be replaced by counterfeits.

In a single art theft case in late 2013, security services in Turkey stated that up to $30 Million in artwork was taken from the state museum. Despite 30 major artworks being recovered from a operation in Istanbul, about 40 paintings are still missing from this one incident.

Source:  AFP, “Turkey probes wave of museum art thefts,” Global Post, December 9, 2013.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in the United Kingdom stated that over $482 Million (£300 Million) in artwork and antiques were being stolen across the country each year by organized crime groups.

The organization states that the costs of the stolen art is more costly than the theft of stolen cars vehicles.

Between 1991 and 2013, nearly 60,000 stolen art pieces, antiques or collectables have been registered as stolen, missing, or looted in the United Kingdom.

(More statistics about art crimes.)

Source:  Emma Forde, “Criminal gangs targeting high-value works of art in UK,” BBC News, November 16, 2013.

The Interior Ministry of Russia estimates that nearly $1 Billion worth of cultural artifacts and artwork has been stolen from Russian and smuggled to the black market during the past 15 years.

Interpol stated that museums in Russia had the most artwork stolen from their property, ahead of museums in France, Germany and Italy.  A government commission found that in 2008 nearly 160,000 artworks were unaccounted for.

(Additional stolen artifacts and looting.)

Source:  Daryana Antipova, “Russia tops European countries in art theft,” Russia Beyond The Headlines, September 14, 2013.

In 2011, officials in Peru seized 2,962 cultural artifacts throughout the year from being smuggled out of the country. The average number of items seized per month equaled 247 each month.

In 2012, the number of artifacts and antiques seized by officials decreased to 1,870, an average of 155 per month.

In the first five months of 2013, authorities seized 367 artifacts in Peru, a rate of 73 items per month.

Despite the decrease in seizures, Peruvian authorities still registered 115 stolen artifacts that have been lost during the first 4 months of 2013. Between 2007 till May 2013, the Ministry of Culture has registered 3,470 stolen pieces of artifacts that have been stolen from Peru.

(More about antique smuggling and art theft.)

Source:  Peggy Pindo, “Peru targets smuggling of cultural goods,” Infosurhoy, July 15, 2013.

The Interior Ministry reported that in a 12 year period ranging from 2001 to 2013, nearly 800 churches and 53 mosques in Macedonia have been robbed by thieves taking religious and archaeological relics. In the first four months of 2013 alone, law enforcement reported nearly 40 churches having items stolen from their property.

(Additional religious artifact theft and looting.)

Source:  Aleksandar Pavelvski, “Macedonia Police Deal Blow To Organized Crime And Artifact Theft,” Eurasia Review, May 10, 2013.

In the Southern United States, officials have begum to notice people digging up graves in order to steal uniforms and other items that Confederate soldiers were buried in.

According to an article by the Augusta Chronicle, items stolen by grave diggers can be sold at a high price to antique collectors. A single button from the uniform of a Confederate solider can fetch up to $150. Full uniforms and service medals are sold between $500 to up to several thousands dollars. A sword used by a General can earn the grave digger between $20,000 to $30,000.

(More information about tomb raiding and grave digging for profit.)

Source:  Wesley Brown, “Grave-looting part of new black market for artifacts,” Augusta Chronicle, April 26, 2013.

According to art experts in Europe, as of 2013 there are still roughly 100,000 artworks that were stolen by the Nazis that are still missing. The value of the artwork based on modern-day valuations is $10 Billion.

(More art crimes and theft.)

Source:  Patricia Cohen and Tom Mashberg, “Family, ‘Not Willing to Forget,’ Pursues Art It Lost to Nazis,” New York Times, April 26,2013.