Managing Risks with Trading Antiquities and Cultural Property

January 25, 2024 Yosef Shwedel Andrea Timpone
Art Law

Last week, the foreign ministry of Peru announced that private collectors and institutions around the world had recently returned more than 200 artifacts originating from pre-Hispanic Peru (circa 200 B.C.). The stolen artifacts were comprised of various Indigenous styles from the Inca, Chancay, Nazca, and Chimu cultures.

While 40 of them were seized by local authorities most of them were returned voluntarily.

Along with 142 countries and the United States, Peru is a party to the Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.[1] Among other obligations, the Convention requires countries to “take all appropriate measures to prohibit and prevent the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural properties…”

In compliment to the Convention, many countries have set up bilateral treaties and implemented their own domestic laws to further these intentions. One example in the United States, is the National Stolen Property Act which makes it a felony for anyone who knowingly transports or purchases for resale any stolen goods worth more than $5,000.[2]

In addition to reducing risks of criminal liability, other reasons for taking care when dealing with ancient artifacts or cultural property can be as simple as maintaining goodwill in the art market.

If you are planning to acquire (or sell) any artwork or antiquity, it is good practice to exercise sufficient levels of due diligence, including without limitation:

  • Checking The Art Loss Register and similarly reputable databases.
  • Implementing know-your-customer policies, where applicable.
  • Thoroughly investigating the origin of the work, including, its provenance and any accompanying paperwork.
  • Physically inspecting the work for signs of theft or smuggling.
  • Considering the historical context of where that work comes from, paying particular attention to countries of origin that are war torn or frequent targets of looting.
  • Paying careful attention to any contractual representations and warranties regarding the origin and title of the work.
  • Consulting with legal counsel and Homeland Security if you sense any red flags.

The information contained in this post is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. If you would like to speak with a lawyer at GS2Law in confidence you can schedule a confidential consultation by requesting an appointment online today. 


[2] 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314-15