HomeNewsBriefColombia Artifact Smuggling Case Shows Links Between Drugs and Culture
BRIEF

Colombia Artifact Smuggling Case Shows Links Between Drugs and Culture

COLOMBIA / 2 SEP 2014 BY MARGUERITE CAWLEY EN

Spain has returned 691 indigenous artifacts to Colombia that were smuggled out of the country by a drug trade money launderer in a real life tale that echoes the plot of international bestselling novel "The Goldfinch."

The pre-Columbian art pieces -- which included funeral urns, musical instruments and ceramic sculptures -- were slipped out of Colombia by a renowned money launderer, whose services were employed by drug traffickers, the Colombian Embassy in Madrid told the BBC.

The artifacts had been seized by Spanish authorities in a 2003 anti-drug operation, reported RT. They were held in the Museum of America in Madrid during the proceedings, then handed over to Colombia following a Spanish court ruling in June, which came as the result of a long legal dispute over ownership rights,reported the BBC. Many of the items dated back to 1400 BC.

InSight Crime Analysis

There is often a surprising overlap between the highly specialized criminal worlds of artifact and art theft and the underworld heavyweights in the drug trade, a connection that recently featured in Donna Tartt's 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning novel "The Goldfinch," in which a youth removes a famous work of art from the wreckage of a bombed museum and the painting is later traded between international drug dealers.

As in the book, theft of cultural products can be directly tied to drug trafficking, as a way to launder drug money -- as may have occurred in this case -- or as collateral in drug deals, since works of art are relatively easy to smuggle and valuable on international markets. In Mexico, the theft of religious artifacts has become an important earner for criminal groups that have diversified their activities, with 42 percent of such thefts reportedly linked to organized crime

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering

However, even as a standalone crime, the theft and trafficking of ancient artifacts and valuable works of art is a widespread and lucrative trade. Hundreds of thousands of art crimes occur each year, while the trade in cultural artifacts is estimated to be worth up to $8 billion annually. According to Ecuadorean authorities, a single ancient artifact from the country can be worth as much as $8,000 on the international black market.

Once trafficked, stolen cultural pieces are difficult to reclaim because of a lack of adequate legislation in some countries, and buyers who claim ignorance.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 7 JUL 2015

An ongoing offensive by Colombia’s security forces against the Urabeños has resulted in a series of large drug seizures, allegedly…

COLOMBIA / 14 NOV 2012

Over the years, the Cifuentes Villa family has collaborated with one drug trafficking cartel after another, from the AUC to…

COLOMBIA / 20 OCT 2017

A new document has surfaced detailing the potential surrender terms for Colombia's most powerful criminal group, in what is…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…