Implications Investigation And Punishment

How has globalisation changed the investigation and punishment of crime

Globalisation is one of the most important phenomenon in the 21st century and it has significant social, economic, and political implications. This essay discusses the implication of globalisation for the investigation and punishment of crime. Specific references are made to art smuggling as a global crime, and the implications of investigation and punishment of this crime in a globalised world scenario.

One of the most lucrative illicit businesses in the world today, is the illegal trafficking of cultural property, which includes art and antiquities; this is aided by the development of underground or grey markets around the world that deal with such cultural property (UNESCO, 2010). According to the Interpol, trafficking in arts and antiquities is one of the three most lucrative and widespread global criminal activities in the world today, due to which the international community is taking measures to deal with it (UNESCO, 2010). Similar findings are noted in Bonelli (2016), who notes that the US Department of Justice has ranked art smuggling as the third highest grossing criminal enterprise. The United States FBI has also noted that illicit trade in art generates revenues of approximately six billion dollars a year (Levine, 2011). The victims of art crimes can be private museums, collectors, churches and archaeological sites, from where priceless art and antiquities may be stolen for sale in black markets around the world (Chang, 2006, p. 832). Despite the scale of the revenue involved in art crimes, investigation and punishment of art crimes has been a problematic area as the recovery rates of stolen art have typically been as low as five to ten percent (Chang, 2006). Moreover, art crimes’ investigation process has typically been lengthy and protracted and in successful cases of stolen art recovery, up to thirteen years have been taken by investigative agencies (Chang, 2006).


Art smuggling and trafficking is considered to be a serious crime because it has implications not just for the individual from whom the art is stolen, but also the communities to whom the arts and antiquities may belong. Art and antiquities are considered to be a part of cultural heritage, and includes the “legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations” (UNESCO, 2017). Therefore, stealing of art and antiquities is related to harm to the owner as well as the wider society, which loses important and inherited physical artefacts.

Art theft is also considered to be a serious crime because of its links with organised crime and terrorism. Literature indicates that art crimes are conducted to also help fund organised crime and terrorism, with the proceeds of the looted artefacts that are sold in undergrounds markets around the world (Charney, 2016). Khmer Rouge, the dictatorial government of Cambodia is known to have used art theft and sale of antiquities to fund their regime, which also included genocide of their own people (Charney, 2016). More recently, the Islamic State (ISIS) have used the art and antiquities seized from Mosul and Palmyra for sale in black markets and the proceeds were used to fund their terror regime in Syria (Charney, 2016).

Organised criminals also organise their nefarious activities in such a way that they are involved in multiple kinds of trafficking, with the bigger organisations being involved in all kinds of trafficking, including drugs, human, arms and art and antiquities. Organised criminals are also working for wealthy collectors who will pay vast sums of money to gain priceless art and antiquities (Charney, 2016).

Levine (2011) notes that trafficking in arts and antiquities generates billions of dollars in annual revenues for those involved in the grey or underground markets (Levine, 2011). To a great extent, the processes of globalisation have aided in the development of conditions that facilitate the businesses of organisations involved in art theft. Globalisation has led to the creation of transnational networks that are used for the facilitation of theft, transportation, and marketing of arts and antiquities (Chang, 2006). At the same time, there are significant impediments in the investigation of such offences because the networks are spread across different nations, which makes it difficult for the police agencies to control and investigate these crimes, leading to low success rates in the investigation and prosecution of the crimes (Chang, 2006).

One reason why the success rates with respect to investigation and art theft is low is that art theft is not accorded as much importance as is given to other crimes and for most countries, art theft and art crime is of little priority for policing (Clarke & Szydlo, 2017). This is despite the fact that art theft is considered to be a serious crime by international treaties and research also provides that art trafficking is closely interlinked with other forms of organised crime (Clarke & Szydlo, 2017). Nonetheless, art crime has gained some significance as a policing issue since the 1980s onwards, because proceeds from art crime have been increasingly used for other nefarious activities, such as, funding of terrorist activities (Kuhar, 2016). Since then, police agencies around the world have increasingly been provided more funding to tackle art crime (Kuhar, 2016). Despite this shift in attitude towards art crime in policing, the success rates of police agencies have remained low. The difficulties that are associated with policing art crimes arise because stolen art is usually stored for significant periods of time before being sold on the black market, and stolen art can be used as currency between organised crime groups, which may mean that stolen art is not introduced to the market for long periods of time (Kuhar, 2016). Police investigators are not experts in the area of art, and they often need to work with subject experts who can help them distinguish between genuine artworks and forgeries. This may not always be possible as experts may not be accessible or they may be located in other countries and it may be very expensive to collaborate with them. It is also to be noted that the actual market value of the stolen art may only be 5 to 10 percent of the black market value, because of which it may not make financial sense for the investigators to use their funding for locating specific art works. This may be a reason why art owners usually rely on non-state actors, such as Art Recovery International to locate their stolen works (Kuhar, 2016). While this may show policing to be ineffective in art crime, another school of thought argues that policing in itself has become so complex that it should be understood as an activity undertaken by a number of agencies and different sets of resources (Stenning & Shearing, 2012). From this perspective, the location of stolen art by agencies like Art Recovery International may also be seen as an extension of a policing activity. At the very least, this is a globalised perspective on policing because it responds to the complexity of crimes in a globalised world.

One effect of globalisation on policing of art crime is in the increasing use of international agencies like the Interpol, and the Europol (in Europe); these agencies are also being used to locate and retrieve stolen art (Clarke & Szydlo, 2017). The Art Recovery International and the Art Recovery Group are also important part of the international structure that are responding to the challenges of globalisation in the context of art crimes (Clarke & Szydlo, 2017). This is because of the global nature of the criminal activity, which is not limited to a specific country or borders (Clarke & Szydlo, 2017). Art crimes involve transnational criminal activity, wherein the artworks may be stolen or forged in one country, then transported into the market or through markets of many countries. Often, such crimes involve inter-continental activity. It is not possible for the domestic police of one country to respond to art crimes due to this (Clarke & Szydlo, 2017). Moreover, there is involvement of transnational organised crime syndicates in art crimes. These organised crime groups are not only involved in the trafficking of art and antiquities, but also in trafficking of arms, drugs and human beings.

Therefore, an increasing global nature of the crime has led to the responses in international investigative contexts, with the involvement of Interpol, Europol, and bodies like the Art Recovery International and the Art Recovery Group (Clarke & Szydlo, 2017). Therefore, one of the impacts of globalisation in the investigation of crimes, particularly art crimes, is that investigations are no longer limited to the domestic police and investigative agencies and there is an increasing role of international agencies like the Interpol.

Due to the globalised nature of art crimes, and the fluid market structures that have developed due to globalisation, the movement of the stolen art can ultimately take it to an honest and genuine buyer. This is another problem related to investigation and prosecution of art crimes in a globalised world (O'Keefe, 1994). Therefore, irrespective of the source of origin of the art, it may actually come into the hands of bona fide purchasers, which creates complications for prosecution of art crimes. Instead, the situation may get complicated as there will be a conflict of interest between the original owners and the bona fide purchasers, which may get compounded if the bona fide purchaser has sold or transferred the stolen property to another. Therefore, this is another way in which globalisation complicates the investigation and prosecution of art crimes.

To conclude, globalisation has changed the way organised criminals operate in significant ways, and also made crimes more complex, by virtue of their transnational nature. Due to these reasons, it may be said that globalisation poses significant challenges before the investigative and prosecuting agencies. These challenges include the transnational nature of the crimes, due to which crime is not localised to a specific country. Art crimes exemplify such transnational and complex crimes that operate in a globalised context. Art works may be stolen or forged in one part of the world and then transported through different countries before being sold in the black market. It is often difficult for local police agencies to control or investigate such crimes, because they do not have expertise in the area of art, and may not be able to get access to experts who may facilitate the investigation. Due to this, victims may often need to get help from international agencies that have the resources and the expertise to deal with art crimes. At the same time, the failure of the national police agencies in solving cases demonstrates how globalisation has impacted investigation and prosecution of certain crimes.

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  • Bonelli, T. (2016). The art market database: preventing art crime and regulating the new global currency. Holy Cross Journal of Law and Public Policy , 119, 119-170.
  • Chang, D. N. (2006). Stealing Beauty: Stopping the Madness of Illicit Art Trafficking. HOUS. J. INT’L L., 28, 8329.
  • Charney, N. (2016). Lessons from the history of art crime: Saving artefacts from terrorists. Journal of Art crime , 63, 63-66.
  • Clarke, C. M., & Szydlo, E. J. (2017). Stealing History: Art Theft, Looting, and Other Crimes Against Our Cultural Heritage. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Kuhar, S. (2016). Criminal Investigation of Art Crime in the Republic of Slovenia . Revija za kriminalistiko in kriminologijo , 67, 358-370.
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  • O'Keefe, P. (1994). Feasibility Of An International Code Of Ethics For Dealers In Cultural Property For The Purpose Of More Effective Control Of Illicit Traffic In Cultural Property. UNESCO.
  • Stenning, P., & Shearing, C. (2012). The shifting boundaries of policing: Globalisation and its possibilities. In T. Newburn, & J. Peay, Policing: Politics, culture and control (pp. 265-284). London: Bloomsbury.
  • UNESCO. (2010). The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two (1954 and 1999) Protocols. The Hague: UNESCO.
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