Only five years ago, it was an undeniable public certainty that the war in Syria and Iraq had not only left severe devastation on the cultural heritage of those countries, but had also created a particularly disgusting industry: the illegal trade in stolen antiques. Undoubtedly, this trade helped fund terrorist groups that supplied Western collectors with art from dim sources. The Federal Republic, it was often said, belong to the main transshipment points for this type of business, art dealers and auction houses are compliant or unsuspecting accomplices. Therefore, even the cultural property protection law was tightened in this country. But now a study shows: The story of the illegal art trade in Germany is probably not true.
The suspicions came about from Sabine von Schorlemer, representative of the German Unesco commission and owner of the chair for international relations at the TU Dresden. She said, "According to reports, Germany has become an important trading center for the illegal trade in robbed art, and we need a broad society outlawing this trade." To illuminate this darkfield of criminology, the Illicid research project began its work in April 2015 at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. His aim was to gather evidence of trade practices that pointed to breaches of export, import and customs rules and money laundering. The Federal Ministry of Education funded the project with 1.2 million euros. Now the final report is available. Result: The scientists can prove no significant illicit trade, so no market for Middle Eastern robber antiques, in Germany. The fact that the Federal Republic is an "important transhipment area" for this kind of goods, as many cultural politicians claimed at the time, can be considered refuted.
According to the report, 386,500 ancient objects from the eastern Mediterranean were spotted, which appeared in the period between July 2015 and June 2017 in the trade. Of these, 6,133 were identified as potentially suspicious and 3,741 were sold in Germany. 2,387 objects may have come from Syria or Iraq. The 6,133 suspected pieces achieved a total sales of 1,693,674 euros. Most were offered under 1,000 euros, ten percent of them even for prices below 100 euros. More than half of these lots were bundles, ie mass-produced goods. Four cases are listed in the report, in which one Iraqi, one Syrian and two Egyptian artifacts were bought in Germany and resold for profit in the US or Great Britain. The same is not illegal per se and can be called dealer luck. Only once was a five-digit amount achieved. The conclusion: "From a scientific point of view, money laundering potential can not be ruled out, but it can not necessarily be assumed."
In other words, the trade in Near Eastern antiquities in Germany is neither legally nor politically relevant in terms of quantity or quality. There is no supply of high quality objects and demand is generally low. Of course, in principle can not be ruled out that important art is smuggled from Syria. But then this does not happen systematically, but in the context of criminal activities: there are cases for Interpol and Customs. The art trade is obviously not involved. It is more likely that at German auctions those pieces that have been collected in Europe for decades are circulating. The scientists of Illicit are, moreover, of the opinion that of the sighted Near Eastern antiquities only about a quarter should be real.
Cultural politicians used Illicit - before results were available - as justification to tighten regulations. For example, the import of art from non-EU countries has been more strictly regulated. Collectors and dealers are now under suspicion. And the collection of ancient art, wherever originated, is no longer considered by the market to be a great future. This has had an unfounded suspicion. The truth is too late.