The FBI works in conjunction with Interpol
and Art Theft squads from Australia, the New Scotland Yard, and others in
Europe, to recover art stolen overseas.
While fraud is one of the main concerns in the United States art
community, Art Theft Program Manager Lynne Chaffinch says that extortion
is the big problem overseas, where art is used to launder drug money. Drug
money is used to purchase stolen art, which is then sold for clean money.
Sometimes, art is traded directly for drugs. Thieves are "much more
organized overseas. They work in groups. It's just not like that here [in
the United States]," says Ms. Chaffinch.
addition, Ms. Chaffinch says that in Europe, "church thefts are huge.
[The stolen items] have great historical value, but the moral offense is
to such a degree that there's a particular problem, especially in the
Czech Republic." She explains that in Europe, particularly in the
Eastern European countries, items stolen from churches are nearly
impossible to recover.
While the items have been in the churches'
possession for hundreds of years, one critical step is often overlooked.
"These items often have no documentation: no photos, no descriptive
information. Without the documentation, they cannot be added to the
National Stolen Art File and we cannot make a recovery without that
Ms. Chaffinch encourages anyone who
collects art to have proper documentation of the art they possess.
Physical descriptions help, but "even snapping a photograph of it
will increase the chances of its recovery significantly," if it is
Once a piece is added to the National
Stolen Art File, it remains there until it is recovered.
For more information about the FBI Art
Theft Program and specific art thefts, please follow the Related Stories links to the left.
Useful links for art theft are: