Finance: Corrado Catesi

"On The Line" Podcast Series, Episode 6, Corrado Catesi

“On The Line” Podcast Series, Episode 6, Finance: Corrado Catesi

You can listen to this interview and future episodes of “On the Line” on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart RadioTuneIn & Alexa.


Nancy:
Today we have Corrado Catesi on the line. Corrado is the head of the “Works of Art Unit” at INTERPOL. He leads the world’s police organisation’s efforts to protect works of art and cultural heritage from crime. Today we’re asking him to zero in on Daesh antiquities and art smuggling: what the industry looks like, why we should be concerned, and how to stop it.

Nancy:
Corrado, could you please describe your role at INTERPOL and how it relates to Daesh financing and countering Daesh financing?

Corrado:
Yes, my role here is to coordinate all information that are arriving in INTERPOL from other countries, to analyse it, to try to understand how correctly to fight the illicit traffic of cultural property. My duty here in INTERPOL is not only to fight the illicit traffic of cultural property that are financing terrorism or terrorists as is told in the United Nations Security Council resolutions. But it is also to fight organised crime like these crimes, all of the different aspects of unrelated crimes in this field.

Nancy:
How many countries do you work with or through?

Corrado:
As INTERPOL, we have 194 member countries. We are the largest police organisation worldwide.

Nancy:
What is the scale of Daesh antiquities smuggling? What was the industry worth to Daesh at its height?

Corrado:
This is a good question. Right now, it is really difficult to understand what happens there, and also how many objects are illicitly excavated, and how many objects are really put in the illicit market. Why? Because no one is there, and when you are finding a tomb or archaeological sites, you never know how many objects you can find in the archaeological area as well. To really give a number of the objects of the entity for sure is not possible. One thing that we can see without doubts is that this phenomenon is really important and is affecting different countries. Not only Syria and Iraq, but we have different countries that are under these attacks and different archaeological areas were illicitly excavated in a programmatic way to find everything was possible and to put it in the market. But to give you a number honestly is not possible, no one can really give a perfect number about this phenomenon.

Nancy:
What type of goods are being smuggled and sold by Daesh?

Corrado:
All objects that could be found can be smuggled. It is also a difficult to find these objects in the illicit market. Of course, there is an illicit market and always is possible to intercept it, and to understand whatever was illicitly excavated. Of course, normally in the archaeological sites, what you can find are normal objects – the daily life objects – as well as very important or incredible artefacts. We cannot say there is only one type. There are several types; some are common, some are more valuable. Well in archaeological objects, we have to consider not only the value of the objects, the type of objects, but when this illicit activity is carried out in the field, everything around is destroyed, especially the documentation – what the object can tell us about the former civilisation.

Nancy:
How is Daesh able to sell these goods and who do they sell them to?

Corrado:
This is a good question. As I told you, it is difficult to find the objects in the illicit market right now. We still don’t know where the best part of these objects are. If these objects are in some deposit waiting for a better time. If these objects, were already smuggled it into their country. If these objects are already sold and are still waiting a better time to appear again in the market. For sure what we are assisting is in different online sales that a lot of objects coming from the Mesopotamic area, it means an incredible area where our civilisation was born. We have a lot of these objects. The problem is that the objects sometimes the value is not so high and no actions are taken because it is really difficult. Normally anyway, the final buyers are private collectors – can be people like me, like you, or real collectors, or people that are interested in collecting objects of art, especially archaeological objects of art.

Nancy:
Do the buyers know they’re financing Daesh or that they’re part of an illicit trade market?

Corrado:
This is a good question. I thank you for this good question. The people should know because it was made – it is still ongoing – from the international organisation a huge communication campaign raising awareness about it, but I don’t know what happens. The people, the collectors in this case, when they see certain objects, they don’t think about that this action – their action – can finance terrorists, but unfortunately, this is the case. When an object of art is coming from this area the United Nations Security Council resolutions speaks very clear when they should avoid and if they don’t avoid, I think they are not totally aware about the problem, the real problem.

Nancy:
I think in that case, I think there would be a lot of people that do not realise what they’re actually taking part in, they don’t understand the implications of their actions. A bit like us when we go to the market to buy jewellery!

Corrado:
Yes, unfortunately you are right. It is the same, but this is our duty to raise awareness about the problem and never to be tired about it. To express and boost this concept always because is mandatory to do it. We cannot avoid you to think that it is object may, the way where the terrorists are gaining money, income, from this activity. We cannot forget about it.

Nancy:
How do authorities identify and detect artefacts smuggling? Is there anything the public can do to help?

Corrado:
Yes, we have in INTERPOL, we created in 1995 the INTERPOL stolen works of our database that is fed by information coming from our national police organisation through our national Central Bureau. Nowadays, we have in our INTERPOL stolen works of our database of 51,000 objects coming from 134 countries. Inside these 51,000 objects at least 5,000 objects are coming from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and the people before buying an object should check inside our database, also because it is for free. They only have to request through our website to have the username and password that you have the access that you have the right to have the access to the INTERPOL database and after that in one week, they will receive a username and password that will allow them to check against our database you see before buying an object if this object is coming from an illicit activity or not. Of course, if the object is now it’s not inside in our database doesn’t mean that the object is not stolen because perhaps it was not communicated to INTERPOL. These objects remain at a national level or as is the case of the archaeological objects, the object was illicitly excavated, and the illicit provenance is not known because nobody knows about these objects only the diggers know that they illicitly excavated in some archaeological areas. But what we are trying to tell everywhere and every time, that the people before buying an object should check against the INTERPOL database as well as in some other national register to check the illicit provenance of the objects to be sure that buying these objects, they are not financing organised crime or terrorists.

Nancy:
That is very good to know. What happens to the objects once you find them? Are they taken back to their original countries?

Corrado:
It depends by the situation. Normally the object stolen should come back to the owner. The owner can be a private collector, it could be a museum, it could be a religious organisation, it could be the state (as is the case of the archaeological objects illicitly excavated). But we have to see the different case by case, its not simple to give you a perfect route. Normally it should come back. And normally it happens. In other case no.

Nancy:
For partner police forces – do you have any suggestions as to what more can be done in terms of training and capacity building for customs officials and police forces?

Corrado:
Thank you very much for this question. For sure, this field is sometimes considered, if you allow me to tell in this way, it is considered as a knife crime that because we used to say in the movie that crazy collector, addicted collector, wants to have an incredible objects of art and to enjoy this private collection. Unfortunately, the illicit traffic of cultural properties are a serious crime that affect all regions of the world – transit towards destination countries. Its a real crime and unfortunately sometimes police agencies as well as customs are not totally aware about the crimes and about the problem. There is a lack of confidence with this topic. For this reason, is a really important to raise awareness about this topic and especially that illicit traffic of cultural property can finance normally organised crime and may finance terrorists. Well, coming back to your question. Yes, police as well as customs should be involved more in a training in workshops where this crime is very well explained. And also to know how to fight illicit traffic of cultural property. For sure, one of our main topics here in INTERPOL is to encourage all of our member countries to set up a specialised police unit only dedicated to fight the illicit traffic of cultural property with a dedicated national stolen works of art database. Only by creating the specialised police unit at national level is it possible to fight this kind of crime.

Nancy:
In your opinion, what should vulnerable countries like Iraq and Syria do to protect their heritage at source? What legal structures and practical protection strategies should vulnerable countries put in place?

Corrado:
Of course, it’s important to understand that Syria, Iraq as well as other countries try to put in place already really important activities house to move the collections (the movable collection) from the museum to another place in safe city. But of course, what cannot be done by Syria, Iraq, or what is not possible to do in the conflict zone, is to, if the government loses the control of the territory, of course is not possible to protect the archaeological area. So, the immovable culture heritage is not possible. They cannot do something. For sure one thing that is mandatory to do is it to inventorise all movable collection. This is really important – to inventorise what can be stolen. What is known and can be stolen. For this reason, you have allowed me to tell you, as INTERPOL’s moving in this direction in the incoming period in the Autumn after summer we will issue a mobile application called the “ID Art”, where to try to supply the lack of inventory scale can be private inventory as well as a governmental inventory and museum collections. We put inside this mobile application the possibility to inventorise the known objects of art through the object ID. You know, the object ID is an international standard to inventorise an object of art. Well in this mobile application, we put a specific section called object ID where the people can inventorise their own collections and eventually if they will be victim of a theft (can be done by organised crime or by terrorists or something like that), this files can be sent to the police, they can request it to the INTERPOL to insert it in the INTERPOL database. From this moment, the object will be wanted worldwide at international level. Well the most important things that the country has to be done coming back at your question is to inventorise more objects as possible.

Nancy:
Corrado Catesi, thank you very much for your time and for joining us on the line.

Corrado:

Thank you for your time and for giving us at the INTERPOL the opportunity to share our experience.

You might also like