Fake Iraqi artefacts sold in UK to fund terror

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The Independent Online

Forged ancient works of art from Iraq are being sold in Britain to fund terrorism in the Middle East, Scotland Yard says. Police believe genuine artefacts plundered from Iraq and Afghanistan are also being traded by groups linked to al-Qaida.

The forged artefacts are being sold on internet auction sites and market stalls for up to £3,000 each.

Soldiers returning from Iraq have been working as undercover agents who offer to sell ancient artefacts that they pretend to have brought back. The faked relics are sold as antiques dating back more than 4,000 years.

Detective Constable Ian Lawson, from the Metropolitan Police's arts and antiques unit, said: "There is a new trend in faked artefacts coming out of Iraq. We believe the funds are going back to Iraq. We know for a fact that there is a terrorism link."

The growing problem of fake artworks - worth an estimated £100m to £200m every year in the UK - was highlighted by the police yesterday at a private exhibition at the Albert and Victorian Museum in London.

The display contained examples of faked Middle Eastern artefacts that included a Mesopotamian cone, a Greek pendant, a clay nail with aramaic script and a Sumerian message tablet said to date from 2100BC. But police are also finding huge quantities of genuine artefacts.

In an operation - codenamed Dahar - carried out earlier this year, Scotland Yard used soldiers to expose the trade out of Iraq.

The police are particularly concerned about looting from archaeological sites in Afghanistan.

Three to four tons of plundered items have been seized by customs officials and police in the past two years, including ceramics, stone sculptures, Buddhist Gandharan statues, bronze weapons and coins dating back to the 3rd century BC.

The issue of fakes and forgeries is the subject on a private exhibition being held by the Metropolitan Police to raise awareness.

The event included the work of the forger Robert Thwaites, who persuaded Rupert Maas, a respected gallery owner and television art specialist into parting with £20,000 for a forged painting he claimed was by John Anster Fitzgerald (1823-1906). The dealer was even able to sell it on for a 300 per cent mark-up.

Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register, the exhibition's sponsors, said up to £200m worth of fakes were traded in Britain every year. Only a small proportion of items offered for sale were authentic.