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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK
Crackdown on antiques black market
Antique statue
Antiques like these prove ideal for money-laundering
A new crackdown on the black market in art and antiquities has been announced by the government.

Antiques dealing is an increasingly common means for UK drug barons to launder money, with some experts estimating the market is worth as much as 500m a year.

Arts Minister Alan Howarth has appointed a panel of experts to come up with ways of tackling the problem.

The illicit trade lines the pockets of organised crime

Alan Howarth
Arts Minister

It is expected to recommend a change in the law to ban trading in illegally imported antiques.

Artefacts looted from sites in Africa and the Middle East can be bought and sold legally in the UK, even if they were smuggled out of their country of origin illegally.

Log books

The panel may also suggest more stringent licensing of antique dealers and demand that pieces are accompanied by "log books" which trace their origin.

The age of some imported pieces makes it difficult to verify how they were obtained - one of the reasons why they are ideal for money laundering.

Mr Howarth acknowledged the trade is on the increase.


Chinese painting
Items are smuggled illegally from country of origin
"It is a dishonourable business that robs nations, often in the Third World, of their heritage and in some cases lines the pockets of organised crime," he said.

He pledged to work with the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry to find a way of beating the trade.

The panel is made up of experts from legal and archaeological backgrounds as well as from the antique trade, and is chaired by law Professor Norman Palmer.

It is expected to report its findings in November.

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