Identifying and Preventing Opportunities for Organised Crime in the International Antiquities Market

Published: July 2009

What is the relationship between organised crime and the antiquities market? There are two senses in which we can use the term ‘organised crime’ here. It would be quite plausible to suggest that the international market in illicit antiquities is to a not inconsiderable degree a criminal market, organised into a structure of relations between thieves, smugglers, facilitators, sellers and buyers of illicit commodities, and that the illicit part of the trade is therefore in itself (as a criminal market) an example of organised crime. That argument could proceed without reference to the presence of conventionally stereotyped organised criminals in the market, in the sense of groups or networks of professional criminals who use violence and corruption in the pursuit of illegal financial gain. I tend towards this view of the antiquities market as an example of organised crime per se, and an example which therefore draws us towards a ‘spectrum of enterprise’ approach that sees global trade as always more or less legitimate or illegitimate, moral or immoral (Smith Jr 1980). However, there are also of course many reports of antiquities being used as laundering mechanisms for drug money, as being linked to other international illicit markets, and as being colonised at the source end of the chain of supply and in transit to some extent by local political and bureaucratic corruption, the state military, other militias in conflict states, and more conventionally stereotypical organised crime groups such as mafia-type organisations in Russia, Italy and China. So we have on the one hand the argument (which I think is a good one) that the international illicit market is, even without reference to this type of organised criminality, an example of organised crime simply by dint of its organised market nature and the fact that many of its transactions are illegal according to the 41 criminal laws of the jurisdictions where they take place. But we also have on the other hand the question whether these various types of more conventionally conceived ‘organised criminals’ are operating within the market, and if so at which points and in what form.


Authors / Editors

Prof Simon Mackenzie

Victoria University of Wellington

Research Themes

Crimes of the Powerful: organised, white collar and state crime