The US initiated an extraterritorial civil forfeiture of antiquities

Last week, attorneys filed a civil forfeiture action on behalf of the United States for four antiquities allegedly being held as foreign assets of ISIL. The case marks a couple firsts. For one it is the first forfeiture action targeting foreign assets of ISIL of any kind. Second, it marks the first forfeiture initiated by the U.S. government of this kind, where the objects at issue have not been seized by the government, but rather only photographic and associated evidence of their possible introduction into the antiquities trade exists. As a consequence this is an extra-territorial forfeiture which shares many similarities with the efforts of Italian prosecutors to forfeit the Fano athlete/Getty Bronze.

The best overview of the forfeiture I’ve seen can be found at chasing aphrodite. There, Jason Felch was able to speak with Arvind Lal and Zia Faruqui in the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of Colombia:

Where are the objects? Lal and Zia declined to say whether they knew where the objects were, citing the on-going investigation of the Abu Sayyaf material. But they said the complaint makes clear they are not currently in the United States.    

Why file the complaint now? Lal said that the time between the May 2015 raid and the forfeiture complaint was necessary to conduct a thorough investigation of the records seized from Abu Sayyaf, consult with experts on the objects depicted in those records, coordinate with other federal agencies (FBI, State, Treasury and “other government agencies”) and compile the complaint. “We feel like we’ve done our homework with respect to these four items,” Lal said, suggesting that additional items may be added to the complaint in the future.

The practical implication of this forfeiture will mean that the market for these four objects, and perhaps objects like them, has been sharply diminished. The forfeiture complaint also details the ways in which looting takes place. The traditional rationales for antiquities looting may be much messier than we have thought, with women and family members forced to loot the al-Salihiyyah archaeological site to prevent harm to a young family member, as the documents seized in the Abu Sayyaf raid which have been made public for the first time in this complaint seem to show.

  1. US files first case against ISIS to recover antiquities, http://ara.tv/m65yq (last visited Dec 20, 2016).
  2. UPDATED > Inside the ISIS Looting Operation: U.S. Lawsuit Reveals Terror Group’s Brutal Bureaucracy of Plunder, CHASING APHRODITE (2016), https://chasingaphrodite.com/2016/12/15/inside-the-isis-looting-operation-u-s-lawsuit-reveals-terror-groups-brutal-bureaucracy-of-plunder/ (last visited Dec 20, 2016).
  3. Brandi Buchman, U.S. on Hunt for Antiquities Trafficked by Islamic State Courthouse News Service (2016), https://courthousenews.com/u-s-on-hunt-for-antiquities-trafficked-by-islamic-state/ (last visited Dec 20, 2016).
  4. United States Files Complaint Seeking Forfeiture of Antiquities Associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/pr/united-states-files-complaint-seeking-forfeiture-antiquities-associated-islamic-state (last visited Dec 20, 2016).

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