Prominent Art Dealers Eyed in ISIS Antiquities-Looting Probe

Family business run by Ali and Hicham Aboutaam under scrutiny by investigators.

June 1, 2017 9:25 am
Is This Prominent Antiquities Dealer Peddling ISIS-Looted Art?
Ali Aboutaam, front, and brother Hicham Aboutaam of the Phoenix Ancient Art Company pose between a marble torso of Aphrodite Anadyomene, left and a marble statue of a goddess from the Hope Collection at their offices in Paris, France, Friday, September 16, 2005. (Alastair Miller/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Phoenix Ancient Art‘s website, the prominent antiquities dealer notes that it purchases “works of art from private collectors, public auctions, art dealers, and art brokers worldwide.”

But of late, international authorities are investigating if that list also includes “terrorists.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, a recent arrest and recovery of an ancient object in Geneva, Switzerland, led authorities to Ali Aboutaam, the head of Phoenix’s Geneva office, and a member of one of the most famous antiquities-dealing families in the world (his brother, Hicham, heads up a showroom on Madison Avenue in New York).

Sources told the newspaper that Swiss authorities were investigating the Aboutaams for allegedly handling artifacts looted in Syria and Iraq by ISIS. Belgian and French authorities, as well as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), all have investigations open into whether the brothers have been dealing in looted art.

For years, ISIS has used looting of ancient art as a means of financing its international terrorism network and campaigns. And some of that stolen art has likely made it stateside. “It’s still surprisingly easy to smuggle stolen objects here,” Domenic DiGiovanni, who handled more than 60 antiquities seizures as a customs officer in New York before retiring in 2014, told the Journal.

This is not the first time the Aboutaams have been under investigation for dealing in looted art; ICE was investigating them for it back in 2003.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.