As reported by the public broadcaster of Belgium’s French community rtbf, the Belgian government has quietly decided to eliminate the federal police unit dedicated to fighting illegal trafficking of cultural property, part of the central directorate against serious and organised crime. This has been seen as an alarming move by many in the preservation world, given the current international attention to Syrian antiquities trafficking and questions over security in the country.
An extract published by the rtbf from a letter written by the interior minister Jan Jambon explains: “The authorities and the police directorate have opted to maximise human resources by decentralising them and keeping a minimal capacity at the central level. Given that crime related to art and antiquities is not considered a priority, its management is integrated into the regular work of the police.” This means that local police would be responsible.
The Belgian committee of the Blue Shield, the international organisation that promoted the protection of cultural property, doubts that local police forces have the time or means to maintain the database for such operations or to actively collaborate with Interpol, according to the rtbf. The Belgian media outlet also describes the country as a “hub of illegal trafficking of works of art”.