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Developing an
integrated IT system
to defend cultural goods

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Combat Illicit Trade of Cultural Objects

It is currently widely recognised that the illicit trade of cultural objects, rather than a local phenomenon limited to the initiative of a few individuals, is a highly remunerative source of income for criminal organisations that have been taking advantage of the possibilities now offered by online auctions and social media visibility to expand further the already flourishing "grey market".

The surge in illicitly sourced cultural property transactions has been facilitated by the overall shortcoming regulations existing for this market, the variability of national laws and the uncertainty in object traceability.

Against this background, RITHMS proposes an interdisciplinary approach made necessary by the transnational character of this crime and its links to other criminal networks. The project will define a replicable strategy to counter the challenges in addressing the illicit trafficking of stolen/looted cultural goods and investigate the mechanisms underpinning it, including its connection with organised crime.

"Theft, looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property is a crime. It deprives people of their history and culture, it weakens social cohesion in the long term"

UNESCO, Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, 1970

Decoding Crime Networks through Social Network Analysis

RITHMS will foster cross-cutting research bringing together all the domains relevant to broaden our understanding of this type of crime (art market, criminology, law studies, forensic science, etc.).

Inputs from these fields will inform the theoretical framework underlying the development of a digital platform leveraging the methods of Social Network Analysis (SNA), which through people's relations and interactions helps better understand and foresee human behaviour.

Ultimately, RITHMS' interoperable digital Platform will be able to identify criminal networks and provide investigators with valuable intelligence on the activities and evolution of such organised or connected groups.


1. Understand the criminal phenomenon of cultural heritage trafficking

Promote cross-sectoral research that brings together all relevant fields to broaden the understanding of crime against cultural property (art market, criminology, legal studies, forensic science, etc.) and grasp its connections with other kinds of organised crime.

2. Provide Law Enforcement Agencies with new technological tools

RITHMS will provide an operational, technological tool to enhance the investigative capabilities of Law Enforcement Agencies, i.e. an IT platform based on SNA methodology, developed and validated according to practitioners’ needs and requirements.

3. Operationalise the collected knowledge and the developed technologies

Trigger all the necessary steps to make RITHMS SNA platform effective, ensure its implementation, longevity and exploitation after the Project's end, and foster the validity of RITHMS platform’s intelligence as evidence in court

4. Promote cooperation to tackle illicit trafficking in cultural goods

Foster collaboration between the different actors involved in countering this type of crime. Given its organised and mobile nature, addressing the phenomenon from different angles and complementary fronts is necessary to tackle it efficiently.