The billion dollar art theft market and Bosnian War crimes


Nura Mustafic, one of the Mothers of Srebrenica and other Bosnian organizations, wipes away tears as she reacts to the verdict which the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, ICTY, handed down in the genocide trial against former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday Nov. 22, 2017. A U.N. court convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison for atrocities perpetrated during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)

What to look for on Smart Talk Thursday, March 21, 2019:

It has been said that stealing art is relatively easy, but finding a buyer is almost impossible. If this is true, why do thieves continue to target art and cultural property?

The FBI estimates losses from theft, fraud and art trafficking in the billions of dollars annually. In 2004, the FBI established an Art Crime Team to respond to thefts and recover the items.

How successful are they?

Appearing on Smart Talk Thursday is Robert Wittman, the FBI’s Art Crime Team founder who helped track down more than $225 million worth of stolen art and cultural property. Wittman is also the author of Priceless; How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.

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Robert Wittman (photo courtesy of Bucknell University)

Also, the phrase “ethnic cleansing” became widely used in the 1990’s to describe a conflict unfolding in the Balkans. Long-simmering ethnic tensions rose to a crisis point after the country of Yugoslavia disintegrated, and the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence. Bosnian Serb forces began a campaign to expel all Bosnian Muslims and Croatian civilians, resulting in the murder and disappearance of thousands of individuals, mostly men and boys.

In the years after the war, an International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) was established to adjudicate Bosnian war crimes. One particular trial continues to make headlines when PBS Frontline produced a documentary on the notorious general accused of genocide and war crimes: The Trial of Ratko Mladic

Joining Smart Talk to discuss the trial is the lead prosecutor for the ICTY, Penn State Dickinson School of Law professor Dermot Groome.

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Prof. Dermot Groome