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Art theft on the rise as financial criminals get more creative

This week, Interpol warns that high-end art thieves adapted during COVID-19; a global dark web operation worth £22.5m was smashed; and news for Trump Scottish golf course.

Napier AI
October 29, 2021

This week, Interpol warned the art world that high-end thieves have adapted their criminal techniques during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions; a collaborative sting by police forces worldwide smashed a global dark web illicit goods operation worth £22.5m; and the USA’s ex-president Trump is a step closer to knowing his fate in the murky Scottish golf course saga.

Find out more on these stories below.

Rise in artwork and “cultural property” thefts as criminals innovate their methods  

This month Interpol released its 2020 report, entitled ‘Assessing Crimes Against Cultural Property’ which highlighted changing criminal behaviours relating to art thefts.

The report paints a grim picture of how the theft of culturally significant artefacts and prized works of art has continued unabated - and sometimes been exacerbated - by lockdown restrictions imposed by governments worldwide in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the recent travesties are the pilfering of a collection of 16th century masterpieces from the Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford and the theft of a Van Gogh original from the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands. Law enforcement agencies seized 854,742 cultural property items in 2020, with over 50% (567,465) being retrieved in Europe alone.

Mr Corrado Catesi of Interpol’s Works of Art unit explained that criminals were focusing on stealing cultural valuables from museums since restrictions on people’s movements have rendered theft from private homes almost impossible.  

Noting that “as countries implemented travel restrictions and other restrictive measures, criminals were forced to find other ways to steal, illegally excavate and smuggle cultural property,” he cited online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube as new frontiers for traffickers in high-brow goods to market and trade antiquities, artefacts, and artworks.

In response, Interpol launched the ID-Art mobile Application in May 2021, a database which helps to identify stolen cultural goods and combat the illicit trade.

Read more on this story in OCCRP.

Global crime crackdown sees 150 arrested in 8 countries and £22.5m seized

This week Europol reported that police forces across the globe arrested 150 alleged suspects involved in purchasing and selling illicit goods on the dark web as part of a coordinated international operation involving nine countries. 

Code-named Operation Dark HunTOR, the crackdown was the culmination of a 10-month collaborative effort by law enforcement agencies from nine different countries. Carried out within the guideline framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), the outcomes included the seizure of €26.7m (£22.5m), 234 kg of drugs, and 45 firearms, as well as the arrests of 150 suspects.

The third operation of its kind this year, this dismantling of yet another global dark web illicit trading site follows the takedown of DarkMarket in January 2021, led by Germany’s Oldenburg Central Criminal Investigation Department, which smashed an illegal online marketplace worth an estimated €140m (£118m). The impact of international cooperation by law enforcement agencies worldwide was also felt by criminals in June 2021, when Operation Trojan Shield snared 800 suspects in 18 countries.

Commenting on the enterprise, which saw 65 arrests in the United States alone, US department of Justice Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco noted that “this 10-month massive international law enforcement operation spanned across three continents and involved dozens of U.S. and international law enforcement agencies to send one clear message to those hiding on the Darknet peddling illegal drugs: there is no dark internet. We can and we will shine a light.”

Read more on this story on Europol.

Scotland’s highest court hears why ministers should scrutinize Trump’s purchase of golf courses

This week, the Scottish Court of Sessions heard arguments centring on whether Trump and his purchase of Scottish golf courses should be investigated under an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO).

Led by U.S. human rights group, Avaaz, arguments were made in favour of obliging ministers to impose an unexplained wealth order (UWO) on ex-president and property tycoon Donald Trump for his organisation’s acquisition of Turnberry Golf Course in 2014.  

Avaaz reported in 2019 that the purchase was part of an eyebrow-raising flurry of buying activities by the Trump Organisation, with possibly dubious transactions emanating from “locations highly conducive to money laundering such as Panama and the former Soviet Union.”

The UWOs were implemented by the UK’s Home Office in 2018 as a safeguard against possible money laundering by wealthy foreign nationals exploiting the country’s economic system via high-value purchases such as real estate.  

Avaaz’s Aidan O’Neill QC, while focussing specifically on the Turnberry Golf Course matter, argued that Trump’s $300m (£217m) purchase and development of his Scotland-based golf resorts from 2006 to 2014 fit the criteria for executing a UWO.

The Scottish Parliament voted against instituting an UWO against the Trump Organisation in February 2021. Avaaz won the right to have that decision reviewed in August 2021. Representing the Scottish ministers, Ms Ruth Crawford QC, countered Mr O’Neill by arguing that “the ministers have a discretion rather than an absolute obligation to make an application to the Court of Session.”

Read more on this story on Forbes.

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