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EU executive plans crackdown on plunder smugglers, militants

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU officials proposed new rules on Thursday to stop traders smuggling ancient scrolls, artworks and other antiquities into Europe, an illegal trade they said was funding militants.

European Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici holds a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Smugglers, some of them working with militant groups, were stealing antiquities from battle zones in the Middle East and using customs loopholes to sell them inside the bloc, the European Commission said.

“Terrorists are traffickers in art, among other things,” European economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici told reporters.

“We cannot accept that terrorists steal cultural goods in Syria and Iraq and sell them illegally in Europe to finance terrorist attacks against European citizens,” he said.

EU regulations already ban the trade in artefacts from Iraq and Syria, both countries where Islamic State and other groups have seized territory and historic sites.

But traffickers have been exploiting uneven rules in the EU, making multiple stops in states with less stringent regulations to create a false paper trail disguising the origin of objects, a practice Moscovici called “port-shopping”.

The new rules would require traders to go through a common, stricter licensing process to import archaeological objects into Europe. They also set new definitions for protected cultural goods and gave customs authorities powers to seize them.

In late-2014, media around the world leapt on the assertion by a U.S.-funded archaeologist that antiquities-trafficking had become Islamic State's second largest source of revenue after oil sales. (

Studies since then have raised doubts on the involvement of the group - which has shown more interest in destroying ancient sites than profiting from them - and suggested much of the illicit trade may be down to unaffiliated smugglers and forgers taking advantage of the chaos.

The Commission said the new rules would be part of broader efforts to cut financing to groups that have launched a series of attacks on European soil.

Last week’s G20 summit called for more countries to “address all alternative sources of financing of terrorism, including dismantling connections, where they exist, between terrorism and transnational organized crime, such as looting and smuggling of antiquities.”

Reporting by Elizabeth Miles; Editing by Francesco Guarascio