Russia is hardly known for its good morals or adherence to the rule of law, a fact further confirmed on Friday when Finnish customs agents intercepted millions of dollars of priceless Syrian artwork that was stolen by ISIS and bound for a rich Russian collector.
"There a great deal of archaeological material in the Middle East related to humankind's early history that in many ways is irreplaceable," Chief Intendant Jouni Kuurne of Finland's National Board of Antiquities said in a statement.
The most valuable piece seized by Finnish Customs was a decorative ceramic plaque looted from a Syrian shrine. The priceless relic dates to the 1400s, making it both exceedingly rare and valuable.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has repeatedly warned about the destruction of Syria's world heritage sites and the looting of art treasures.
"This is a new phenomenon. We have cases under investigation in which items originated in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway and France," says Sanna Kuparinen, the head of investigations at Finland's National Board of Customs.
Smugglers have been passing the artwork through Finland on its way to collectors in Russia mixed in with shipments of art and antiquities dating from the Soviet period. There are no restrictions on such items so long as export permits have been acquired in the countries from which they are shipped.
The professionally organized operations have been contracting with ISIS to purchase ultra-rare looted intiquities who then falsify the contents, their origin and the value of items in order to get them in the handy of greedy Russian collectors.
"This is an excellent way to convert cash into assets that retain value," points out Sanna Kuparinen, alluding to why rich Russian collectors want such items.
The cash is also useful to ISIS, who is funding a large-scale war against Iraq, Syria and Tunisia. It also operates terror cells in a variety of western countries and must provide civil services in the territories it occupies.
Finnish authorities said they are currently investigating an addition three cases and urged the public to come forward if they have information regarding the smuggling.