[FOUNTAIN]Guard against thievery of cultural assetsThe Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States recently installed the Art Crime Team, or ACT. The team specializes in crimes related to the theft, smuggling and forgery of artwork and cultural properties.
The team is made up of eight special agents with ample experience in handling major art crime cases. There are two prosecutors assigned exclusively to the team. Depending on the case, other FBI agents will cooperate with the team. Following the launching of the ACT, the U.S. Department of State plans to appoint prosecutors specializing in art crime cases. Due to the intellectual nature of art crimes, law enforcement officials have decided that regular investigation tactics can no longer handle these crimes.
The most important quality of the organization is the ability to appreciate the arts. Without that, the agents cannot investigate art-related crimes.
Investigating art crimes are completely different from investigating a crime such as larceny. A few years ago, Italy, England, and Germany appointed special investigation teams exclusively in charge of art theft.
The FBI decided to create the ACT after U.S. troops stationed abroad have been caught smuggling foreign cultural relics. U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq have been caught smuggling Mesopotamian relics.
Experts say that the existence of ACT will help curb the damage and smuggling of foreign cultural assets.
The FBI estimates that the size of the market for stolen artworks, illegally excavated articles and fake paintings is about $8 billion a year. Last week, three works of Edvard Munch were stolen in Norway, shocking the international art world. Some time after a painting is stolen or a cultural relic is excavated, fakes will be circulated in the market. The crime syndicates will create near-perfect counterfeits and sell them as authentic. Then, they will sell the real one as well to make more money. To the international criminal organizations, stealing, smuggling and forging artworks are major sources of income.
These crimes are not foreign any more. There have been attempts to smuggle Korean cultural relics out of the country.
Illegal excavations are discovered as well. Every time such news comes out, creating a special investigation team is discussed but fades. Building museums and art galleries is important to the development of the culture. However, installing an organization like the ACT to protect cultural relics is also a great element in the cultural infrastructure.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The writer is head of the family affairs team at the JoongAng Ilbo.