Cyprus & World News

Walk of Truth pioneers in combating art trafficking

12 June, 2014

The international NGO for the protection of cultural heritage, Walk of Truth (WoT) participated in the International Conference Cultural Heritage Security- SIGArt, held in Croatia on May 26-27, 2014. WoT Founder, Tasoula Hadjitofi, presented "An integrated model to combat international art trafficking" to a diverse audience of eminent experts dealing with the protection of cultural heritage, such as UNESCO, ICOMOS and ICOM, delegates from museums and galleries, representatives of the ministries of Culture and ministries of the Interior, Disaster Preparedness services and other.

Hadjitofi gave a personal account of the meaning of cultural heritage and the profound impact her occupied ghost town of Famagusta in Cyprus has had on her.

She also spoke about her experience in the repatriation of stolen artifacts from the occupied Cyprus, when in 1987, as the Honorary Consul of Cyprus in the Netherlands, she was offered by art dealers to buy stolen artifacts from Cyprus. This incident inspired her to initiate a research on art trafficking that led to a 27+ year struggle of tracking down leads from dealers, detectives and lawyers, to recover the stolen cultural and religious heritage of her motherland. Through this initiative, she was hailed as “Icon Hunter” as she instigated and coordinated the 1997 “Munich Case,” one of the largest art trafficking sting operations in European history. This resulted to the confiscation of over $60 million' worth of looted artifacts from Cyprus and around the world. To date, part of the artifacts remain in the custody of the Bavarian Police and are entrapped in legal procedures, while last September, around 173 artifacts returned to Cyprus.

The need for cooperation among different parties involved, identifying the weaknesses in the current strategy and methods used for combating art trafficking, was highlighted at the Croatia Conference.

Hadjitofi ddressed the aforesaid issue, using real examples from Cyprus, The Netherlands and Germany, underlying the need for the development of an integrated generic model to combat art trafficking. She explained that the illicit art trafficking of cultural, religious and artistic goods is the result of national and international conflicts and greed.

“This is one of the world’s biggest organized criminal activities, linked to other organized crimes such as fraud, drugs and arms, and yet not so well known,” she pointed out. “In recent years, a great deal of progress has been made and many good initiatives by private and public parties have been implemented, however, there is still a great deal of room for improvement.”

Hadjitofi also alluded to the looting which Croatia endured through the conflict with former Yugoslavia, as well as the loss of its cultural heritage from Italy during WWII. She was consequently asked for her advice on the subject of looting as well as to share the WoT network.

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