Crimes involving cultural property flourished during 2020, despite restrictions on travel and access to public institutions during lockdowns, a new Interpol survey has found.
Police in 72 Interpol member countries seized a total of 854,742 objects, more than half of them in Europe, according to the survey. It also reported marked increases in illicit excavations in Africa, the Americas and Asia and the South Pacific. Crimes in museums, however, declined in all regions except the Americas.
“The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on criminals involved in the illicit traffic of cultural property, but did not in any way diminish the demand for these items or the occurrence of such crimes,” says Corrado Catesi, the coordinator of Interpol’s Works of Art unit. “As countries implemented travel restrictions and other restrictive measures, criminals were forced to find other ways to steal, illegally excavate and smuggle cultural property.”
The number of offences reported in the Americas in 2020 was almost double the 2019 figure. In Europe, the figure climbed to 6,251 from 5,088 offences. In Asia and Africa, the overall number of reported offences declined from 2019.
Among the high-profile art crimes reported in 2020 were the theft of a Van Gogh painting from the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands and three masterpieces stolen from Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford in the UK. Operation Pandora, a coordinated European law-enforcement effort targeting the illicit trafficking of cultural goods, resulted in more than 56,400 objects being seized.