UNESCO uncovers theft of African artefacts using its name


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says fraudsters are using its name to steal cultural artefacts from Africa.

In a report on Wednesday, the organisation said the fraudsters were selling artefacts to unsuspecting buyers using fake UNESCO stamp.

According to the organisation, fake documents falsely claimed that UNESCO authorised the transactions, and certified the monetary value of collections.

It said the warning followed numerous reports received by UNESCO on the  scam.

The organisation advised art lovers approached to buy such items bearing its stamp, to exercise the “utmost vigilance”.

Most victims of the fraud live in France, according to UNESCO, and many have links to Francophone African countries.

The report quoted the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, as saying artefacts worth over one million euros had been stolen from the continent.

Azoulay described cultural theft as a “lucrative global scourge” that was “in most cases connected to other forms of organised crime, including terrorism”.

“It is 50 years since an international Convention was adopted to combat the illicit traffic in cultural property.

“Although African cultural heritage has long been the victim of looting and destruction, the Middle East has become a recent target in connection with conflict in Iraq and Syria.

“The illicit trade is also growing on the internet, where tracing origins and intermediaries is difficult”.

It quoted UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ramirez, as saying illicit trafficking in cultural property is a worldwide, lucrative scourge.

Ramirez linked to other forms of organised crime, including the financing of terrorism.

“Not only is it rife in Africa, whose cultural heritage has long been the victim of looting and destruction, but it has exploded more recently in the Middle East in connection with the conflicts in Iraq and Syria,” he said.