Photographer: Louai Beshara/AFP via Getty Images

EU Targets Islamic State Antiquity Plundering to Fund Terror

  • European Commission issues a draft proposal of rules
  • Regulations aim to strengthen powers of customs authorities

The European Union proposed new rules that would curb illegal trade in antiquities and other cultural goods, as the bloc steps up its efforts to crack down on sources of terrorist financing.

The draft presented Thursday by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, aims to strengthen and harmonize import checks for cultural commodities across its borders in order to detect and prevent the movement of funds linked to terrorist groups such as Islamic State, also known as Daesh.

“Money is oxygen to terrorist organizations such as Daesh,” EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in a statement. “We are taking action to cut off each of their sources of financing. This includes the trade of cultural goods, as terrorists derive funding from the looting of archaeological sites and the illegal sale of cultural objects. By preventing them from entering the EU, we can help dry up this source of income.”

In addition to the sale of plundered archaeological artifacts -- revenue of which the commission estimates to be as much as 5 billion euros ($5.7 billion) every year -- the Islamic State bolsters its assets through a vast petroleum infrastructure, selling sex slaves, ransoming hostages and plundering stolen farmlands. The proposal seeks to overcome diverging and ineffective national legislation on import checks that allows customs rules to be exploited by exporters who use profits from these activities to fund terrorism, the commission said.

Alternative Financing

The move follows a call from world leaders gathering at a Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg last week to “address all alternative sources of financing of terrorism,” including dismantling connections between terrorism and transnational organized crime, with looting and smuggling of antiquities, as well as kidnapping for ransom, weapons, drugs and human trafficking.

Terrorist groups “can pillage the territories they control in Syria and Iraq and they can use this trafficking in artworks to fund their their activities including the terrorist attacks we have suffered in Europe,” Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s commissioner for economic affairs, taxation and customs, told reporters in Brussels. “Funding sources for terrorism are many and we need to fight this on all fronts.”

The EU’s proposal aims to harmonize the treatment of cultural goods by customs authorities along the bloc’s borders so that exporters face equally strict treatment at all points of entry. The tougher checks will apply only to antiquities that have been shown to be most at risk, such as those that are at least 250 years old.

The commission’s plan focuses on reinforcing the powers of customs authorities, who will now be able to seize and retain goods whose legal export cannot be demonstrated. EU governments will be obliged to introduce effective and dissuasive penalties for those who break the rules.

The draft legislation foresees the introduction a new licensing system for imports of archaeological objects, parts of monuments and ancient manuscripts and books, whereby importers will have to offer proof to obtain licenses from EU authorities before bringing these goods in the bloc.

For other cultural goods, importers will now have to go through tougher checks, having to submit a signed statement or affidavit as proof that the goods have been exported legally from the non-EU country.

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