and the trafficking of counterfeit garments, humans
and illicit antiquities
The media coverage of the Marion True trial for dealing in illicit Italian
artifacts has been great for raising public awareness amongst the American
people of the huge trade in illicit antiquities. It has also raised the
question: are the clandestine trades in illicit antiquities, as well as
human trafficking and counterfeit clothing, funding international terrorism.
Lets take this question to the people most affected by the issue: the Arabic
people of America (and more specifically, Brooklyn and Manhattan).
The northeast corner of Bayridge, Brooklyn is a great place to go if you
want to eat authentic Arabic cuisine and afterwards, drink Turkish coffee.
If you find it pleasing, you can also find plenty of hookah
establishments where you can smoke the water pipe called a Nargile. This is
a large Arab enclave and is a vibrant, hardworking American community. Many
of these Arabs who live here work in the garment district in
Manhattan. Our interview starts with two Lebanese men in an Arabic
restaurant above a busy mosque on 29th st., near Broadway in Manhattan. We
will keep their names confidential and refer to them as Has and
cvs- Has, are you legal in this country?
cvs- How did you get here?
Has- I crossed the border in Mexico.
cvs- There are numerous Arab immigrants from the Middle East here ( a
Columbia U estimate is that there are just over 200,000 Arabs living in New
York; their presence in Bayridge has been seen since the 1870s).
Some are illegal. How did the illegal immigrants arrive here?
Has- 90% of the Arabs here crossed the border in Mexico. I paid $19,000 to
be smuggled in.
cvs- Tell me about the details of your journey. Did you land in Nogales? How
did the coyotes treat you?
Has- I crossed the border in Tiajuana. I was held captive until my relatives
could cough up a ransom.
Abbas- There is an Arab guy in Mexico who runs the Arab immigrant operation.
He drives a Mercedes Benz nicer then all three of us combined could afford.
He gets $19,000, $20,000 and even $30,000 a head.
When the immigrants arrive in the States, they are held captive in safe
houses until they pay more money.
cvs- How hard would it be to smuggle a small artifact into the U.S. from
Has- It could be done.
cvs- Abbas. What do you think, is the vibrant trade here in counterfeit
clothing helping to fund Hezbollah and terrorism? What about illicit
Abbas- No. These people only want to earn a living. Hezbollah has enough
funding from inside Lebanon and Iran. Hezbollah has never attacked the U.S.,
they only are fighting for their land. It is that other guy (Bin
Laden) that you have to worry about and AlQaeda. They were getting a lot of
their funding from those charities that the authorities are closing down.
They would collect money for orphans and keep the money.
cvs- What about illicit antiquities?
Abbas- I don't know anything about that. Here we only want to sell pants and
Now lets leave Broadway and touch base with an expert on the illicit
antiquities subject in London. Michel Van Rijn is a former smuggler of
antiquities and art who turned into an art world crusader who exposes
the dirty side of the global art market on his web site: http//:www.michelvanrijn.nl
. While many people disagree with this art world gumshoe's style, many are
quick to point out that his info is very reliable.
cvs- Michel, in your book Hot Art, Cold Cash, you point out that Lebanon was
the main junction for illicit art and antiquities leaving the east for
Switzerland and the west. Is Lebanon still significant in this clandestine
MvR- Swiss laws... tell me about them (smiles). In a country where Jewish
bank records are shredded and laws are onerous and protect the rich villains
of this world, there are loopholes in the art laws as big as a
cvs- It has been noted that there is a large, sophisticated network of Arabs
in the world (and of interest to our readers, New York) who move illicit art
treasures from point A to point B. Ant input?
MvR- Many Arab countries are rich in cultural heritage. The fact that in
certain of those countries non Islamic culture is considered 'second rate',
therefore, there is a leniency from authorities towards the export of
non Islamic artworks. And I have not touched upon the famous word Baksheesh!
(note: baksheesh means to receive a monetary tip, or as the Italians say, to
wet one's beak)
cvs- What about terrorists. Are International terrorist organizations such
as Al Qaeda involved?
MvR- Unfortunately yes. It was already common knowledge for a long time
amongst unscrupulous insiders in the artworld that part of the funding for
these fanatical murderers came from illicit art dealings.
cvs- In your opinion, does this Arab network of wealthy dealers and
middlemen help finance international terrorism?
MvR- Absolutely! It is almost a 'crime free' source of funding which has
been going on for years without repercussions.
cvs- Without naming names, there is a set of Arab brothers who you have been
writing about for years. One of them, who resides in Zurich, has been tried
for illicit antiquity trade in absentia in Egypt and convicted.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison; do you think they'll ever get their
hands on him?
MvR- Every dog gets his day, we live in hope. Inshallah!
cvs- The other brother operates out of New York. He recently copped a plea
on a federal misdemeanor charge for handling a looted artifact. Do you think
he got off easy?
MvR- He got an award, not a sentence. Must have had the same lawyer as O.J.
The griffin was smuggled from Iran, an embargoed country. Nobody paid
attention to that fact.
cvs- Matthew Bogdanos, a man I have a lot of respect for, has just announced
that the NY District Attorney's office is creating a fast reaction response
team to investigate looted artifacts. The F.B.I. has just created
an Art Crimes Squad. What else can US law enforcement do to inhibit the flow
of illicit antiquities that fund terrorists who kill innocent hard working
cvs- Thank you Michel. You are a gentleman. Keep up the good fight.
MvR- Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak my mind.
Back to New York.
cvs- It has been revealed that the 9/11 terrorist leader Mohammed Atta
attempted to sell artifacts smuggled out of Afghanistan to raise funds for
Alqaeda operations. We know that Hezbollah raises funds by selling
cigarettes and other contraband. Is the human smuggling operations that
bring in illegal Arab immigrants also helping to bring terrorist cell
members into the country?
Abbas- Don't worry about the Shia kids that are coming here. Their families
sell a piece of their land to pay for them to come here, where they can go
to school. They know this is a free country and their kids can
work and make money. They want to get their kids out of there. What happens
if Israel and Lebanon start shelling each other? Thousands of people will
die. I saw this with my own eyes when I was a kid.
cvs- There are a lot of Jewish people here in New York. How do the two
Abbas- Here the Jewish and Muslims are good to each other. We all do
business together. Why do you think no one fights each other here in New
York. They are all good people; but don't forget, many Israelis
want to see a peaceful solution with the Arabs. Don't worry about the young
guys who want a better life. The ones you have to worry about are the kind
that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. All these people
who are blowing up bombs are brainwashed. Islam is a peaceful religion. The
Jordanian Zarqawi stated that Shia should die alongside Americans. They are
even killing muslims! Look at the bombing in Jordan. The
majority of Arab people condemn terrorism.
cvs- Abbas, you have helped the U.S. government in the past. Your daughter
has told me that she plans on applying to the C.I.A. for a position as an
Arab speaking operative after she graduates high school. As a
member of a family that has risked much to defend the U.S., how do you think
the Arab terrorist stereotype affects the 99.9% of good Arab people in the
Abbas- What do we have to do for this country to be respected? We work hard
and raise our families.
cvs- Here on Broadway, its like the wild west. Merchants get robbed, killed;
there is a lot of police activity against counterfeit clothes merchants.
Yet, it seems like a great place for investigators to make friends with
Arab people. Is law enforcement forging relationships here? What can they do
to generate leads and support?
Abbas- They do it wrong. They arrest a guy for selling drugs or clothes. He
agrees to be an informant. He then struts around here like he is a king and
everyone knows who he is. Some people are afraid because he
can make a false accusation that an illegal immigrant is Hezbollah. They are
afraid that a false accusation will get them sent back or arrested. They
have to do it right. When I was a kid in Lebanon there was a crazy
old man who wore a hat with a feather in it. He used to bring Yasser Arafat
coffee. All the kids teased him because everyone thought he was crazy. We
used to run up behind him, hit him and get him to chase us. It
was later discovered that he was an Israeli military operative. They have to
do it right.