In a post for the FCPA Blog, Ilya Zlatkin recently compared corrupt companies to white collar tomb raiders. He outlined how antiques and ancient artefacts circulate on the black market, and the excellent work of the FBI’s Art Crime Team in locating and returning those artefacts to their rightful owners.

As I read Ilya's post, I thought about recent TV news pictures from the Middle East — of temples and other treasures that have for survived thousands of years suddenly being blown up by mindless thugs, determined to shock the rest of the world. The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has taken a perverse delight in filming its zealots systematically destroying ancient statues and carvings using sledgehammers, trying to erase history. Ironically, the ISIL fanatics have also used the black market to dispose of ancient artworks, too, to fund their nihilist statelet.

In fact, customs borders worldwide are ripe for corruption (Jeroen Michels touched on this in another recent post for the FCPA Blog). Jeroen quoted J.W. Shaver, former Secretary General of the World Customs Organization, who said: “There are few public agencies in which the classic pre-conditions for institutional corruption are so conveniently presented as in a Customs administration.”

Why are the two scenarios inextricably linked? Because the same thugs who are slowly destroying priceless artefacts in Syria and Iraq are also funding their terrorist campaigns by pilfering crude oil, via the oil fields they acquired when they conquered their way through parts of Syria, Libya, and Iraq, and set up their so-called state.

The questions here should not be limited to who is buying ISIL’s oil and thereby funding their atrocities: rather, how on earth is this oil reaching the end-consumer?

Carole Nakhle, writing for Al-Jazeera, has researched the problem. Many commentators are suggesting the value of the oil sold by the rogue state is $1 million to $1.5 million per day. If we assume that recipient countries are oblivious to the origins of this oil (and some of us have our doubts), then it is reasonable to assume that these countries have porous borders and controls at best — and, of course, potentially corrupt customs officials.

Most readers of the FCPA Blog will agree that all corruption is wrong. But the wider issue is potentially catastrophic: If borders are manned by corrupt customs officials, and they allow terrorist oil (or worse) to pass through, this is corruption on the most serious of scales. Those responsible are knowingly facilitating the funding of terrorism. In doing so they are putting their own country and the rest of the world at risk.

Russia has already accused Turkey of buying cheap terrorist oil. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, and the accusations have to be viewed in the context of the ongoing conflict in the region. The accusations and counter accusations will continue to fly.

There's going to be a lot more to come with this story about the movement of illicit oil. Meanwhile all countries should clear out corrupt customs officials and their crooked bosses, and plug the leaks at their borders. The world's security depends on it.

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