Tomb Raiders of Iraq

Uncovering the illegal trade in antiques

Tomb Raiders of Iraq From a simple customs check to the robbery of ancient palaces of Abyssinia in Iraq, a large-scale illegal antiques trade has been uncovered, with artefacts ending up at museums such as the Louvre.
Antiques dealer Ali Aboutaam has been convicted for facilitating the illegal transfer of cultural artefacts. Customs officers found ancient treasures in a storage container, including a Roman bust of Emperor Hadrian in a blue Ikea bag. ‘There are objects that Mr Aboutaam buys under the table. Once in a car park, two people sold him a large vase hidden in the trunk of their car’, one former employee testifies. The investigation traced artefacts to Iraq, where antiquities smuggling is rife. When Islamic State destroyed ancient cultural artefacts in Iraq during their occupation, they also looted many smaller pieces to sell abroad. ‘ISIS was renowned for digging up artefacts and then reselling them or taking them abroad’, says Dilan Sirwan, a journalist. Some of Aboutaam’s artefacts are worth millions, according to the investigators, but the dealer still claims he acquired the items legally. ‘They come largely from my family collection’, he says.

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