For the world’s top museums, nothing matters more than reputation and exclusivity. These venerable institutions rely on rare collections of precious objects to draw in the crowds and maintain their social relevance. But a simple question often goes unasked and unanswered: how do ancient treasures from around the world end up there?
As part of a Pandora Papers, ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) ran an investigation into artefacts linked to an alleged trafficker, leading us to probe elite establishments like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
And now, legal authorities are increasingly asking it too — putting these institutions’ reputations at risk like never before.
Last week, ICIJ reporter Spencer Woodman broke the story on how U.S. investigators are stepping up efforts to confiscate allegedly stolen works on display in the halls of top museums. In the largest action to date, law enforcement agents seized nearly two dozen relics from the Met that were linked to looters and smugglers, including a trove of ancient Roman sculptures.
It’s part of a greater reckoning on how museums acquire the antiquities that make them famous — and what responsibility they have to investigate how these treasures came to end up in Western hands.
“The numbers are rapidly adding up,” says Tess Davis of the Antiquities Coalition, which campaigns against the trafficking of cultural artifacts. “In what other context could you make headlines so often for holding stolen property and not face any consequences?”
‘CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY’
A long-awaited UN report accuses China of serious human rights violations, citing ICIJ’s China Cables investigation in its assessment of the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
Nobel Peace Prize laureates Maria Ressa, an ICIJ member, and Dmitry Muratov, a partner on past ICIJ investigations, launch a 10-point action plan to address a global information crisis driven by what they call Big Tech’s broken and unethical business model.