Syndicate content

Italy

Vulnerable yet invaluable: Protecting our shared patrimony by safeguarding art, artifacts, archaeology and assets

Christopher Colford's picture

The spectacular recovery of a long-missing painting by Pablo Picasso – a canvas that had been stolen more than a decade ago, in a daring museum theft in Paris – offers a vivid reminder of the illicit worldwide trade in stolen assets, artworks and archeological artifacts. Preventing the cross-border smuggling of stolen money, art and natural treasures poses a stern challenge to law-enforcement authorities. Yet the vigilance of the international network of corruption-hunters and asset-trackers can often end in success, as illustrated by the case of the now-recovered Picasso.

The art world hailed last week’s revelation that “La Coiffeuse,” painted by Picasso in 1911, had been intercepted in December by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials during its shipment to a climate-controlled warehouse in Long Island City, New York and had then been seized while in transit at Port Newark, New Jersey. The painting – unseen since its 2001 theft from the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris – had been shipped on December 17 from Belgium to the United States in an innocent-looking FedEx container, adorned with a holiday-season tag marked, “Joyeux Noel.” Its shipping registration papers falsely described it as an “art craft/toy” valued at $37. The legal process that began last week in New York should soon have the canvas on its way back to France, where it is owned by the nation.

The Picasso had been assigned an estimated value of about 2 million euros at the time of its theft in 2001 – suggesting how lucrative the underground market for stolen art may be. Despite any such theoretical valuation, however, such cultural objects are truly beyond price: They belong to humanity’s shared patrimony, and thus their theft is an immeasurable crime against history.



"La Coiffeuse" by Pablo Picasso. Photograph via the U.S. Department of Justice.

The sudden recovery of the Picasso has suddenly reminded art-watchers – and law-enforcement officials – that the 25th anniversary of a still-baffling crime is fast approaching: the March 18, 1990 theft of $500 million in artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. That theft deprived the world of, among other masterpieces, Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” painted in 1633. Despite occasional rumors that one of the stolen works might be available somewhere on the global black market for art, that crime remains unsolved – and the criminals, part of the vast international network of art thieves and smugglers, remain at large.

Police agencies and global asset-trackers certainly face a herculean task. International plunder takes many forms – from the “grand-scale corruption” that infects fraudulent banking transactions to the looting of countries’ wealth by dictators and kleptocrats. Cracking down on the illicit flows of funds worldwide – which are sometimes abetted by corruptible accountants and pliant lawyers, who help steer goods to safe havens and stash loot in offshore tax-dodging accounts – requires persistent detective work and meticulous forensic accounting. In the case of stolen art treasures, the art world must appeal to the conscience of connoisseurs and dealers – and must rely on the integrity of curators at museums large and small, who surely know better than to traffic in property whose provenance might be even slightly suspicious.

Units like the Stolen Assets Recovery (StAR) Initiative – a joint effort by the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – patiently promote cooperation among transnational, national and local law-enforcement bodies. That task requires a commitment for the long haul, as they steadily pursue capacity-building among governments and private-sector watchdog agencies that are determined to build their anticorruption capabilities. Closer legal, technical and financial coordination is an indispensable tool in hunting down and repatriating looted lucre.

As in the case of the now-recovered Picasso, the effort to protect priceless goods sometimes ends in a law-enforcement triumph. In a just-opened art exhibition in Washington, art-watchers can now get an up-close look at an inspiring example of how a strong national commitment to fighting crime – backed by methodical investigative work and tenacious legal processes – can achieve enduring results.

The Embassy of Italy last week opened an exhibition of irreplaceable artworks that might have forever vanished onto the international black market, had it not been for the work of one of the country's specialized military units: the Guardia di Finanza, which snce 1916 has protected Italy from smuggling, drug trafficking and financial crimes. Its specialized art-investigations teams, the Gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico, has successfully prevented the theft of many works of art, some of which can now be seen (by appointment) at the Embassy on Whitehaven Street. Objects such as these are integral to Italy’s culture and the West's heritage.

In opening the exhibition, Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero noted that “the trafficking of archaeological works is a growing phenomenon that in recent years has spiraled upwards at an alarming rate” – with Italy ranking “first among the countries [that are] victims of this crime. . . . These treasures belong to Italy. But they also belong to European identity and, by extension, to all mankind.”

With the Picasso canvas soon headed back to Paris, and with the recovered art and archaeological treasures now being celebrated at the Embassy, arts-watchers can breathe easier, knowing that these masterworks are secure. But protecting the global patrimony requires the constant vigilance of corruption-hunters and asset-trackers – like the Guardia di Finanza, the StAR unit and their law-enforcement allies worldwide – who stand guard against the plunder of the vulnerable yet invaluable assets that comprise the common heritage of humanity.


How Well did We Forecast 2014?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

A year ago, we polled Future Development bloggers for predictions on the coming year (2014).  Looking back, we find that many unforeseen (and possibly unforeseeable) events had major economic impact. 

We missed the developments in Ukraine and Russia, the spread of the Islamic State in Iraq, the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the collapse in oil prices and their attendant effects on economic growth.  At the same time, we picked the winner of the soccer World Cup, and got many of the technology trends right. Perhaps economists are better at predicting non-economic events.

Here’s the scorecard on the seven predictions made:
 

Accountancy: Framing the Future

Samia Msadek's picture

 

Strong and effective financial reporting rarely grabs headlines, but the vulnerabilities created by weak or ineffective systems of financial reporting certainly do – a number of well-publicised accounting scandals come quickly to mind. 

At the Governance Global Practice we are working to ensure that developing countries grow their economies on solid foundations, with appropriate accountability frameworks that are effectively enforced.

Key to driving change in this area is the global accountancy profession and I am looking forward to meeting with leaders from many developing countries at the upcoming Accountancy Development for Results global event in Rome on November 10. This will take place on the occasion of the World Congress of Accountants.

Replacing Europe’s Dual Labor Markets with a Single Contract

Tito Boeri's picture

In recent decades, many European countries have tried to instill greater labor market flexibility through increased use of fixed-term, temporary work contracts, as opposed to open-ended or permanent ones. The result has been dual labor markets, with temporary workers having fewer rights and job security than those on permanent contracts. One expert on the topic – Tito Boeri, Professor of Economics and Dean for Research at Bocconi University, Milan – stresses that temporary workers were especially hard hit during the Great Recession.

Austerity vs. Fiscal Stimulus: A False Dilemma?

Augusto Lopez-Claros's picture

The 2008-2009 global financial crisis led to a number of large–scale government interventions across the world. These included massive provisions of liquidity, the takeover of weak financial institutions, the extension of deposit insurance schemes, purchases by the government of troubled assets, bank recapitalization and, of course, packages of fiscal stimulus, sometimes of a scale not seen since World War II. Even the IMF, the world’s traditional guardian of sound public finance, came out strongly in favor of fiscal loosening, arguing through its managing director that “if there has ever been a time in modern economic history when fiscal policy and a fiscal stimulus should be used, it's now” and that it should take place “everywhere where it's possible. Everywhere where you have some room concerning debt sustainability. Everywhere where inflation is low enough not to risk having some kind of return of inflation, this effort has to be made".

Have Humans Evolved to Manage Megacities?

Chandan Deuskar's picture
Ancient cities, like Mohenjodaro in modern-day Pakistan, emerged relatively recently in human history.
Ancient cities, like Mohenjodaro in modern-day Pakistan, emerged relatively recently in human history (photo courtesy of Saqib Qayyum used through a Creative Commons license.)​


The growth of large metropolitan areas around the world has been very recent and very rapid, particularly when measured against the duration of human beings’ existence as a species. For the first 95% of our time on earth, we built no settlements at all. Cities of a million people arose during only the last 1% of homo sapiens’ time on earth, and there are already 500 such cities in the world today.

If we have spent most of our existence as small wandering bands, does that mean we are ill-equipped to manage urban settlements of this vast size? The key to success in our current urban transformation may in fact be the same as the key to mankind’s earliest origins - our ability to cooperate.

Green Bonds Market Tops $20 Billion, Expands to New Issuers, Currencies & Structures

Heike Reichelt's picture

Also available in Français | Español | 中文

Annual Green Bonds Issuances


In January, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim urged the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos to look closely at a young, promising form of finance for climate-smart development: green bonds. The green bond market had surpassed US$10 billion in new bonds during 2013. President Kim called for doubling that number by the UN Secretary-General's Climate Summit in September.

Just a few days ago—well ahead of the September summit—the market blew past the US$20 billion mark when the German development bank KfW issued a 1.5 billion Euro green bond to support its renewable energy program.

Should the World Bank Become A Remittance Center?

Dilip Ratha's picture

Last week the New York Times featured an editorial suggesting that the World Bank should become a remittance center. Remittances are the "largest and arguably most effective antipoverty effort in the world.....financed by the poor themselves...,” it stated. “But the cost to transfer those billions is likely to rise soon...[as] big banks are leaving the money-transfer business, including Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase."  

"If banks can’t profitably transmit remittances — and won’t do so as a low-margin courtesy — then other secure, low-cost options must be found. One solution would be for the World Bank to become a remittance center.” 

Why should Governments Spend on Sanitation?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

A puzzle:  Sanitation is one of the most productive investments a government can make.  There is now rigorous empirical evidence that improved sanitation systems reduce the incidence of diarrhea among children.  Diarrhea, in turn, harms children’s nutritional status  (by affecting their ability to retain nutrients).  And inadequate nutrition (stunting, etc.) affects children’s cognitive skills, lifetime health and earnings.  In short, the benefits of sanitation investment are huge.  Cost-benefit analyses show rates of return of 17-55 percent, or benefit/cost ratios between 2 and 8.

But if the benefits are so high (relative to costs), why aren’t we seeing massive investments in sanitation?  Why are there 470 million people in East Asia, 600 million in Africa and a billion people in South Asia lacking access to sanitation?  Why are there more cellphones than toilets in Africa?


Pages