Skip to main content

Coin and art trade don’t fund ISIS

The Dutch National Police, Central Investigation Unit, War Crimes Unit filed a 78-page report Sept. 14 in which rumors that the terrorist group ISIS has been funded by selling stolen art and collectible coins are dismissed.


According to the report, “Although it seems, based on main stream media, as if all art and antique dealers are black market dealers, the legal trade tries to regulate itself. The legal trade is organized in different associations… More often than not these associations are willing to cooperate with law enforcement…. From a criminal investigation perspective, the legal trade is an easy suspect. It is a specialized market and entering it is difficult. Legal traders possess the means, network and knowledge to trade in illegal cultural property and can thus be useful for criminals. Thus is possible and can be logical that the legal trade is involved in the black market. But no evidence that this happens on a large scale is found. The legal trade could not be linked to financing IS based on this research.”

Elsewhere in the report it reads, “Most media reports cover the topic when amounts of money, financial gain, is attributed to IS. As will be described in Chapter 13.6 the estimated revenues vary from a few thousand US dollars to several billions. Private investigations such as done by trade organizations barely make it into news reports – maybe because the conclusions of such investigations do not support the claim that IS earns millions with the illegal trade in cultural property.”

The report continues, “Reports frequently mention amounts of money IS would have earned with selling stolen or illegally excavated cultural property. All these amounts are estimates. The only known fact is that an IS branch headed by Abu Sayyaf earned approximately $260,000 in taxes.

“The British Broadcasting Corporation has reported pieces worth of $500,000 and $1 million being sold by a middle man, but he is not related to IS. This middleman works with ‘friends in Aleppo.’”

The report examines other reporting agencies as well. “In a German documentary the estimated revenues were between 6 and 8 million euro and The Guardian [newspaper] reported revenues of $36 million from the al-Nabuk region alone.

“The Daily Mail Online tops this and estimates the total revenues including sales via Facebook on $100 million. The Russian Envoy to the United Nations estimates between $150 and $200 million. RAND Europe refers to a source that estimates the total worth of international art crimes, including terrorist financing, to be around $6 billion.”

The Dutch National Police report is critical of these sources. According to the DNP, “These estimates are ‘worthless’ and unfounded. The University of Chicago has set up a research project to model the illegal trade in cultural property from Syria and Iraq: MANTIS. They monitor the trade ‘from the ground to the auction house’ and have identified several steps in the process (digging, middle men, items enter the international market) and concluded that IS only earns money within their own territory – not on an international scale. Despite the early phase their research is still in, they have concluded that the high figures are mostly politically fueled (“It’s a lot easier to call for action against a $7 billion crime than a $4 million one”) and not based on real evidence.”

During 2015 The Times of London identified “gold and silver Byzantine coins” as being among the highest grossing items ISIS was selling. Since Byzantine silver coins were minted in small quantities and are rarely found in quantities, the accuracy of The Times article should be questioned.

During early 2017 the G7 estimated ISIS raised tens of millions of dollars from looted Syrian antiquities. This has yet to be substantiated.

On July 5, Hobby Lobby was found guilty of purchasing thousands of smuggled ancient artifacts. There was nothing in the case that indicated the objects originated from terrorist groups.

While terrorist groups likely obtain some money from the sale of antiquities and coins, there is no evidence of this being a large operation.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

More Collecting Resources

• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1601-1700 is your guide to images, prices and information on coins from so long ago.

• Purchase your copy of The Essential Guide to Investing in Precious Metals today to get started on making all the right investing decisions.