LONDON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York, with the assistance of HSI’s attaché office in London and London’s Metropolitan Police Service, kicked off the first meeting of the Virtual Global Cultural Property Task Force (VGCPTF). This taskforce is composed of arts and antiquities investigators from more than a dozen nations, with a nexus to HSI New York’s area of responsibility, who will meet regularly, both virtually and in person, to conduct joint training exercises to develop and enhance antiquities investigations. The VGCPTF initiative will also promote and support cross-training programs to expose foreign law enforcement to U.S. investigative and prosecutorial procedures and vice versa, increasing detection, seizures and repatriations of looted and trafficked antiquities to their rightful owners. HSI New York will work closely in this effort with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the airports and seaports, and through CBP’s National Targeting Center in Washington D.C.
“HSI is dedicated to investigating those who pilfer a nation’s cultural property and returning those antiquities back to their rightful homeland. This effort is of utmost importance, not only to the special agents who investigate these crimes, but to the global community at large,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent in charge for HSI New York. “The initiation of this global taskforce employs HSI’s existing relationships with CBP and other domestic partners, while strengthening those abroad. It should also send a clear message to looters, smugglers and dealers to think twice before trying to profit from illicit cultural property in the United States or around the world.”
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is extremely proud to play an important role in the Virtual Global Cultural Property Task Force (VGCPTF),” said Troy Miller, director of New York field operations. “CBP will work with Homeland Security Investigations and our international partners to demonstrate its law-enforcement resolve in addressing the illegal trafficking of stolen artifacts.”
“The Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit is committed to tackling cultural heritage crime in London – Europe’s largest market – and values the opportunity to strengthen ties with international law enforcement agencies. Investigating and repatriating stolen and trafficked antiquities to their rightful owners is a complex matter and can only be achieved successfully through close collaboration with partners across the globe,” said Detective Chief Inspector Tim Wright, Metropolitan Police’s Central Specialist Crime Command.
With the task force, HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit, dedicated to cultural property investigations in the New York area, is now able to establish real-time information sharing on global, multi-jurisdictional criminal investigations and build upon existing relationships with domestic and international partners. Through these efforts the VGCPTF will be able to develop evidence in each respective nation to identify and prosecute the network of looters/thieves, brokers, shippers, dealers, and end purchasers of illicit art and antiquities. The enhanced operational abilities of this initiative will support the efforts of HSI’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities (CPAA) program, a member of the congressionally mandated Cultural Antiquities Task Force. HSI CPAA takes an expanded approach to collaborating with cultural property professionals in local governments, museums, and auction houses; to protect, recover, and restore cultural antiquities and worldwide sites as part of a whole-of-government approach to combatting cultural property trafficking.
HSI is the investigative arm for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illicit distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, specializing in recovering works that have been reported lost or stolen. HSI’s International Operations, through its 77 offices in 51 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations.
Despite increasingly aggressive enforcement efforts to prevent the theft of cultural heritage and other antiquities, the illicit movement of such items across international borders continues to challenge global law enforcement efforts to reduce the trafficking of such property. Trafficking in antiquities is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar transnational criminal enterprise.
HSI is committed to pursuing a strategy to combat transnational organized crime related to the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts by targeting high priority organizations and strengthening international law enforcement partnerships. Future meetings and implementing steps identified at the London meeting will include law enforcement in the broader cultural property community.
The public, government and private institutions often aid HSI in identifying, investigating and prosecuting illicitly trafficked cultural property. If you have information about the illicit trade of cultural property or art, call the HSI Tip Line, 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or report tips online. For information specific to the New York area, email [email protected].
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