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The New Arab

The Libyan Connection: Italian mafia doing business with jihadists

Libya is home to Roman ruins including the breathtaking Leptus Magna [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 October, 2016

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An undercover Italian journalist has infiltrated mafia smuggling rings and exposed a flourishing illicit trade involving Roman and Greek busts from Libya and weaponry from the Ukraine and Moldova

An article published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa earlier this week has claimed that the ‘Ndragheta and Camorra mafia groups based in southern Italy are trading in antiquities looted by the Islamic State in the Middle East.

According to La Stampa, the two Italian crime families are providing weapons to IS smuggled out of Moldova and the Ukraine by Russian criminal groups in exchange for ancient Roman and Greek artefacts taken illegally from historic, UNESCO protected sites in Libya including Leptis Magna, Cyrene and Sabratha.

Artefacts are purportedly shipped from the IS stronghold of Sirte, currently under attack from Libyan government forces backed by US warplanes, on to the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro, a notorious hot spot for ‘Ndranghetta cocaine smuggling into Europe.

A flourishing illicit trade

Domenico Quirico, a La Stampa journalist, was able to uncover details of the trade after posing undercover as an antiquities collector in order to infiltrate ‘Ndrangheta-controlled trading circles. At one stage during his investigations, Quirico was reportedly offered the head of a two-thousand year old Roman statue for €60,000 and also saw photographs of a figure of a Greek god on sale for €1m.

The La Stampa journalist’s work revealed that most antiquities smuggled out of Libya that reach Calabria are sold on to clients based in Russia, China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

The veracity of Quirico’s claims have been verified by Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano who noted that the Italian government was acutely aware of the illicit smuggling ring.

“We have studied the ‘GDP of terror’ and we know that one of the components is the commercialization of stolen art. The stolen artifacts feed ISIS and contribute to the GDP of terror.”

According to various reports IS has generated millions of dollars in profits through antiques smuggling in both Syria and Iraq, and north Africa.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper in August Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said that 70 percent of artefacts recovered in anti-smuggling operations in the country and neighbouring Syria turned out to be counterfeit.

Western art collectors have faced criticism by some for helping to fund IS by purchasing antiquities on the black market with both American and European legislators said to be considering laws aimed at reducing the influx of plundered antiquities.

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