One Year Later: COVID-19 and Cultural Racketeering

One year ago today, the World Health Organization declared that it had recognized the international outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 as a global pandemic. The COVID-19 virus continues to spread and affect millions around the world. While an end may be in sight due to vaccination developments, the number of cases and deaths globally have reached devastating numbers. 

The Antiquities Coalition has continued monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the market in arts and artifacts—licit and illicit—as well as the arts and culture sector more broadly. This update follows our posts from May and August 2020, further demonstrating how COVID-19 continues to put cultural heritage at grave risk, while also affecting the global trade in cultural property.

Sites Suffer Worldwide as Vandalism and Looting Continue

Antiquities at sites in museums worldwide continue to be at risk due to the pandemic. In November, Ernesto Ottone, assistant director general for culture at UNESCO, summarized the current moment: “more looting, less information, fewer missions, fewer controls.”

Around the world, looting, trafficking, and vandalism have continued. In South America, guards discovered a break-in at the Cañete Mapuche Museum in Chile, where thieves had stolen more than 100 Mapuche silver, fabric, and stone artifacts. The September theft revealed a potential black market for South American indigenous material. In Europe, on October 3, vandals attacked several of Berlin’s major museums, hitting about 70 artifacts across with an oily substance, which German media has linked to “a conspiracy theory propagated by coronavirus deniers.” The perpetrators have not been caught. In the Middle East, also in October, reports in Iraq indicated a “renewed wave” of site looting due to the economic crisis compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Al-Qadisiyah University Archaeologist and Assistant Professor Salah Hatem remarked, “Unquestionably, the pandemic and the economic situation, which was worsened by the pandemic, caused a surge in looting activity in Iraq.” In Southeast Asia, photos published in October documented devastating illicit digging for beads and small scale antiquities in Myanmar. 

Incidents have continued as the year drew to a close. In November, a judge working in the judiciary of the Syrian government in the city of Homs was arrested for smuggling antiquities including small statues, pottery, and engraved panels. In December, a woman was arrested in Greece for looting amphorae pieces, thought to have come from Knidos. Later that month, Egyptian officials reported that illegal excavating in the country had more than doubled this year since the outbreak of COVID-19. The interior ministry reported 8,960 cases of illegal digging from March through November, up from 4,115 cases during the same time frame last year. 

In France, a man was accused of being “one of the greatest archaeological looters in European history” after French officials found over 27,000 objects during a raid on his home. The objects included ancient coins, jewelry, statues, and more. 

From The Guardian: “Some of the thousands of objects found when French officials raided Patrice T’s house.” (Image Credit: Douane Française)

Antiquities looting has also occurred in the United States as when $11,000 worth of artifacts were stolen from the Mud Island River Museum in October. The museum, located in Memphis, Tennessee, has been closed throughout the pandemic. Park rangers have also noticed an increase in illegal digging for artifacts in Arkansas, leading them to publish a warning in early November that looking for antiquities on public property is illegal.

This phenomenon has extended beyond antiquities—a wave of WWII memorabilia thefts have swept European museums in recent months. In August, thieves broke into the Eyewitness Museum in the Netherlands, taking with them $1.75 million worth of historic artifacts. An October theft of more than $1 million worth of historic artifacts from the Oorlogsmuseum in Ossendrecht, including 23 mannequins dressed in uniforms, followed. In November, thieves stole 20 Nazi artifacts from the Deutsches Museum Nordschleswig in Sønderborg, Denmark.

Struggling Museums in Crisis Around the Globe

Across the United States, some museums have reopened at reduced capacity, but virtually all are now facing huge financial challenges. In New York City, where museums are open at 25% capacity, the picture is dire. The ability for institutions to survive will depend on the size of their endowments, government funding, and limited ticket sales. Museums in the Twin Cities, facing a significant drop in attendance even below the 25% capacity, are carrying a relentless financial burden that may lead to closures. In Europe, struggling museums are shutting down again in accordance with a second wave of lockdowns in countries where cases are rising. With plans to reopen unknown, the fate of European museums remains uncertain. In November, Scotland’s representative bodies for museums warned that many Scottish museums will not make it through the pandemic.

With the overall functioning of museums in crisis, the day-to-day operations of museums have been hit hard. Museum conservators have been unable to travel to work on objects that need care and attention, leaving them at risk for further damage. And the picture remains bleak. Laura Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums was quoted: “Depressingly, I think 2021 is going to be as hard, if not harder, than last year.”

The Art Market Faces Challenges and Opportunities

Art Basel’s 2020 mid-year survey of “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Gallery Sector” shed light on many of the challenges the market is facing due to the pandemic. The survey showed that the average value of sales fell 36% during the first six months of 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019. In addition, a third of galleries reported that they downsized their staff in the first half of 2020. 

The survey also indicated some new opportunities for the market. The share of online sales rose from 10% in the first half of 2019 to 37% in the first half of 2020. Also, high net worth (HNW) collectors remained active, with 92% having purchased a work of art in the first six months of 2020 despite the pandemic. 59% of surveyed HNW collectors indicated that the pandemic has increased their interest in collecting. 

In fact, Sotheby’s and Christie’s closed 2020 with $5 billion and $4.4 billion in global sales respectively, both setting records for online and private sales. 

Other gallerists echoed the boom in sales. Los Angeles gallerist François Ghebaly was quoted saying, “The market is raging.” He added that 2020 was his best year ever in sales and profits.

Moving Into 2021

As 2020 ended and the new year began, and vaccinations begin to be administered, there have been some positive developments in the world of art and antiquities: 

  • In October, the French National Assembly voted to approve the restitution of 27 colonial-era artifacts in museums to Benin and Senegal within one year.
  • After suffering destructive attacks by the Islamic State in 2014, the Mosul Museum has reopened.
  • Turkey reported in December that 11.5 million people visited 32 museums and historical sites throughout the country using the government’s digital platform. Explore them yourself here:
  • In December, U.S. Congress passed a bill to fund the creation of new Smithsonian museums on women’s and Latino history.
  • In January, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) was passed by the United States Congress, beginning to close regulatory loopholes that have made the American art market one of the largest unregulated markets in the world. The bill, H.R. 6395, removed antiquities dealers’ current exemption from what are now standard anti-money laundering (AML) laws and regulations under the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).
  • In February, a new study claimed that visitors to museums were at a far lower risk of catching COVID-19 than at restaurants, supermarkets, or offices.

Looking Ahead

Thanks to international vaccine rollout efforts, we can finally see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic on the horizon. Unfortunately, though, herd immunity will not mark the end of the art world’s pandemic woes. Inevitably, months of neglect will have led some cultural heritage sites to suffer permanent damage, months of lost revenue will prevent many museums from ever reopening their doors to the public, and months of unchecked looting and theft will have resulted in an untold number of antiquities being lost to cultural racketeers.

That said, the arts and culture have proved to be resilient through crisis after crisis, and COVID-19 will be no exception. It may take time and, indeed, there may be no returning to the “normal” we knew prior to this pandemic. But there may also be new opportunities—for heritage to be part of the post-COVID financial recovery and to contribute to the rebuilding of both local neighborhoods and the global economy. And its value will go far beyond dollars: in a post-COVID landscape—with the world starved for human contact, education, and entertainment—the arts and culture will be needed more than ever.

Webinar Registration: Digitization of Privately Held Materials

Throughout the Maghreb region, cultural heritage is under threat.

Important archaeological objects, archival materials, rare manuscripts, and intangible heritage that are held in family or private collections have not been spared. In addition, these materials often do not have the advantages of professional conservation, security, climate-controlled storage, and care that collections in national institutions enjoy. These collections are in many cases unknown, except by owners and close associates, and have not been studied or displayed. 

To protect these important materials, experts from across the Maghreb are working to safeguard these privately owned collections through digitization. They face challenges in this effort – distrust of outsiders, concern that materials might be confiscated, and fear that by revealing the existence of rare and valuable manuscripts, they will become the target of violent extremists and other criminals.

On March 9, join The Antiquities Coalition, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, and the Metropolitan New York Library Council, for a live panel discussion on “Digitization of Privately Held Materials.” We will look at challenges and solutions, both for policy and for the practicalities of digitization and cultural heritage preservation.

This event will feature a Keynote address from Father Columba Stewart, the Executive Director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML), in conversation with Abdelhamid Salah, the Director of the Egyption Heritage Rescue Fund. In his role as HMML Executive Director, Fr. Columba travels extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and South Asia cultivating relationships with communities possessing manuscript collections from the early medieval to early modern periods. Under his leadership, HMML’s manuscript preservation projects have increased from one project in Lebanon to projects located in more than a dozen countries. During this time, HMML has photographed tens of thousands of manuscripts in many of the world’s most dangerous and difficult-to-reach places and given priority to preserving the manuscript collections of persecuted or endangered minorities. 

HMML was awarded the 2011 National Medal of Honor from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the highest award a library can receive in the United States. And, he was named by the NEH as the 2019 Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities, the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

This event will also include a panel discussion led by Dr. Charles Henry, with representatives from Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Think Tank Considers How to Advance the Cause of Protecting Cultural Heritage

New Antiquities Coalition Think Tank Publication Outlines What It Takes to Build a Strong Messaging Campaign for Cultural Heritage Preservation

In the just released AC Think Tank publication, strategic communications expert, former White House spokesperson, and Vice Chair of the AC Board of Directors Claire Buchan Parker creates a blueprint for how to develop a successful public awareness campaign. 

Ms. Parker poses: “Just as art thieves and cultural racketeers are taking advantage of new communication vehicles to sell valuable stolen treasures, those of us who are committed to preserving antiquities can harness those same tools and others to raise awareness and protect cultural heritage.”

The practical advice penned by Ms. Parker highlights successful public awareness campaigns such as Global Witness’s “Blood Diamonds” report and WildAid’s anti-ivory campaign. Using these as examples, our expert isolates the most impactful aspects of each campaign and underscores how each was able to change public perception so successfully.

Ms. Parker argues that a distinctive message combined with a strong call to action and deliberate use of media is the best way for a campaign to raise awareness about cultural heritage to succeed. In addition to these findings, the author offers several critical recommendations based on her four case studies and expertise in this area of public relations.

For a summary and link to the publication:



About the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank

The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the international campaign against cultural racketeering, the illicit trade in art and antiquities. This plunder for profit funds crime, conflict, and violent extremist organizations around the world. By championing better law and policy, fostering diplomatic cooperation, and advancing proven solutions with public and private partners worldwide, the Antiquities Coalition empowers communities and countries in crisis to safeguard cultural heritage for future generations. 

Launched in 2016, the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank joins forces with international experts, including leaders in the fields of preservation, business, law, security, and technology, to bring high-quality, results-oriented research to the world’s decision-makers, especially those in the government and private sectors. Policy briefs strive to strengthen policy makers’ understanding of the challenges facing collective human heritage, and to help them develop better solutions to protect it. The views expressed in these policy briefs are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Antiquities Coalition.

Learn more at

AC Executive Director Tess Davis Calls for Strengthened Due Diligence in The Australian

The National Gallery of Australia has declined to reveal what it knows about the provenance of three of its collection’s statues due to a “past agreement,” journalist Michaela Boland first reported in The Australian on February 16. A more in-depth follow-up piece was published soon after.

In 2011, the NGA paid $1.5 million for the 50-centimeter-tall gilt bronze Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara Padmapani figure, which it has been described on the NGA’s website as “the finest and most intact Cham bronze known,” and two 30-centimeter-tall attendants. All three are presumed to have been made by the Cham people of Vietnam in the 9th or 10th centuries.

However, these artifacts have not been on display since 2016.

“The chain of ownership for this object is being reviewed and further research is underway,” the NGA’s website reads.

Prior to the NGA’s purchase, John Guy—which The Australian has described as “one of the world authorities on Southeast Asian antiquities”—claimed in The Cham of Vietnam: History, Society and Art that these artifacts had likely been “recovered by illicit diggers” in Vietnam and eventually trafficked by disgraced art dealer Douglas Latchford.

“Any object associated with Douglas Latchford should be considered a conflict antiquity until proven otherwise,” Antiquities Coalition Executive Director Tess Davis told The Australian, which referred to the Antiquities Coalition as “the world’s foremost organisation combating cultural racketeering.”

“Latchford was the mastermind of an infamous criminal network, which plundered countless masterpieces from the war zones of Southeast Asia and trafficked them into the art world’s top collections. Since 2012 he was in the crosshairs of American prosecutors, and he died last year under a felony indictment fighting extradition to New York,” Davis explained. “His customers can no longer feign plausible deniability. The NGA and the many other museums with Latchford’s loot have now had years to do the right thing. Any objects with any ties to him should have long been treated as stolen property until proven otherwise. The link to him alone should have sounded every alarm.”

This is not the first time the NGA has taken an artifact with dubious provenance into its collection. Detailed information about several of the NGA’s questionable acquisitions—including much more about the Cham statue controversy—can be found in Boland’s stories, linked again here and here.

“The NGA’s behaviour is negligent at best and an affront to both the Vietnamese people and Australian taxpayers,” Davis told The Australian. “It’s also incredibly damaging to the legitimate art market, which is already struggling against growing accusations of antiquities trafficking, money laundering and even terrorist financing.”

For more information on these growing accusations, check out our Financial Crimes Task Force Report.

Financial Crimes Task Force Report Cited in Harvard Fellow’s Art Market Analysis

The Antiquities Coalition’s Financial Crimes Task Force Report was cited in an art market analysis by Michael B. Greenwald, a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The Art Market’s Next Inflection Point,” published on the Belfer Center’s website on February 8, opened by examining how the American art market’s “traditional culture of anonymity and opaque valuations process”—which Greenwald described with more detail in a previous analysis—has historically discouraged any increase in regulations. The ensuing lack of market protections made the American art world a playground for bad actors like the Rotenbergs, enabling a wide range of financial crimes.

Congress took a major step to resolve this dilemma on January 1 by passing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA), which removed antiquities dealers’ exemption from otherwise standard anti-money laundering (AML) laws and regulations under the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).

However, as Greenwald observed in his analysis, the NDAA’s enhancement of the BSA will not result in significant improvement automatically.

“Though it certainly draws awareness to the problem and holds the art market under the same standards as the other industries and entities listed above, it does not create any new bodies to enforce these regulatory measures,” Greenwald wrote. “As a result, what we are left with is a step in the right direction, however there is much more ground to cover.”

Greenwald then drew attention to the Antiquities Coalition, noting that we have “taken a strong stance against criminals exploiting the American art market” and, through our Financial Crimes Task Force Report, made “several strong recommendations to improve existing regulation and strengthen the new declaration in the BSA.”

He highlighted a few of the Financial Crimes Task Force Report’s recommendations, in particular, that “focus on long term education processes and the appointment of high-level officials”—and, as such, hold the potential to have “substantial, lasting impact on corrupt wealth moving through art.”

As Greenwald moved to wrap up his analysis, he wrote that the U.S. Treasury needs to issue additional regulations for antiquities and conduct a risk assessment on the art sector.

“Without the institution of concrete actions and regulatory bodies following up on this legislation, the art loophole will continue to exist,” Greenwald concluded. “Cooperation between the private and public sectors will be necessary if we want to continue squeezing the stream of illicit funds that travel across the globe. Just as gold and cash are stores of wealth, we need to remember that art has a similar function—when it comes to money laundering and terrorism, it must be treated as such.”

To access the full Financial Crimes Task Force Report, including all 44 of its recommendations, click here.

Dr. Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, a Fierce Advocate for Cultural Heritage, Appointed Foreign Minister of Yemen

The Antiquities Coalition congratulates H.E. Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak on his appointment as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Yemen after serving for more than five years as the country’s Ambassador to the United States.

During his tenure as Ambassador, H.E. Mubarak worked tirelessly to protect Yemen’s rich cultural heritage from the many bad actors seeking to use the conflict embroiling the country as an opportunity to loot, smuggle, and sell its priceless artifacts.

As part of the effort, Antiquities Coalition Founder and Chairman Deborah Lehr published an op-ed with H.E. Mubarak in the Washington Post, calling for the Treasury Department to use its authorities to issue an emergency executive order adding Yemeni antiquities to the list of sanctioned items prevented from import to the United States.

Published on January 1, 2019, the op-ed garnered the attention of many prominent figures, including Eliot Engel, then the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and NPR’s Leila Fadel, who amplified the call for emergency sanctions.

H.E. Mubarak’s efforts to preserve Yemen’s art and antiquities did not stop there. He supported efforts by the Antiquities Coalition to release a report containing the records of 1,631 objects that had gone missing from Yemen’s museums during its recent years of conflict with Houthi militias and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, with the goal of engaging the art market, law enforcement, museums, and the public to help to recover these blood antiquities.

“Terrorists and extremists alike also destroy cultural heritage sites for ideological or propaganda reasons, while looting and trafficking antiquities to finance additional brutalities. Yemen is especially vulnerable to this cultural racketeering,” H.E. Mubarak said. “Organized criminals, armed insurgents, and violent groups are plundering our treasures and are smuggling them overseas. Let us combat this crime against civilization and work together for long-term solutions to protecting our cultural heritage and in a manner writ large.”

H.E. Mubarak was also instrumental in securing his country’s ratification of the main international treaty to combat the looting and trafficking of art and antiquities, the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. With this accomplished, Yemen was able to request a bilateral agreement with the United States under the U.S. Cultural Property Implementation Act, which it did immediately. The U.S. government responded for H.E. Mubarak’s calls for action—and, in February 2020, announced that it would impose “emergency import restrictions on certain archaeological and ethnological material from the Republic of Yemen,” requiring those importing at-risk Yemeni cultural material into the United States to provide proof that it left the country before that date or legally after it.

We hope that Minister Mubarak will continue his role as a leader in protecting cultural heritage as he takes on his new responsibilities, and we wish him much success.

Antiquities Coalition Highlights Need for U.S.–Turkey Bilateral Agreement in The Art Newspaper

The Antiquities Coalition recognized the merits of the recent cultural memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the United States and Turkey in comments published on February 3 in The Art Newspaper.

“For the [UNESCO] treaty to have domestic effect under American law, an MOU is needed,” Antiquities Coalition Executive Director Tess Davis told journalist Ayla Jean Yackley, referring to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which the Antiquities Coalition explored in a recent story map celebrating the treaty’s fiftieth anniversary. “US import restrictions can deal a major blow against the global black market in looted Turkish antiquities.”

The import restrictions, which the United States and Turkey signed on January 19, apply to certain archaeological and ethnological materials—including various kinds of archaeological materials created between 1,200,000 BC and AD 1770, as well as various kinds of ethnological materials created between the 1st century AD and 1923—that have not been licensed by the Turkish government for legal exportation.

While this agreement does not advance Turkey’s efforts to repatriate the thousands of antiquities it has already lost—many, presumably, to Western collectors and museums—it will facilitate responsible cultural exchange for years to come.

The agreement is not without controversy, as opponents of the MOU argue that Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations as a State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, alleging that the country has failed to provide adequate protections for the cultural heritage of its minority groups.

In response to that perspective, Davis told Yackley that this MOU can be a “powerful tool,” having the potential to encourage Turkey to make greater strides in defending the cultural heritage of all of its peoples.

“Advocates for minority cultural heritage in Turkey should view this MOU not as an obstacle but as a stepping stone to further their critical work,” Davis said. “It gives them a mechanism to make their voices heard and realise much-needed change.”

United States and Morocco Strengthen Joint Fight Against Cultural Racketeering

The Antiquities Coalition applauds the United States and Morocco for taking a major step to fortify their diplomatic relationship, while battling against the global crisis of cultural racketeering, the illicit trade in art and antiquities.

Today, the U.S. Ambassador to Morocco David T. Fischer and Moroccan Minister of Culture Othmane El Fardaous signed a bilateral agreement in the capital of Rabat, with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce participating virtually from Washington, D.C.

This memorandum of understanding (MOU) will close U.S. borders to illicit artifacts from Morocco. The legal trade will not be impacted. The MOU thus seeks not only to prevent Morocco’s priceless cultural patrimony from falling into the hands of bad actors, but also to protect good faith purchasers in the United States from unwittingly buying stolen property, ensuring the legitimacy of the U.S. art market and museum community. Moreover, the agreement commits both governments to a mutually beneficial partnership, including law enforcement cooperation and responsible cultural exchange. Taken together, these measures will crack down on the illegal market in art and antiquities from North Africa, while ensuring that Americans still have access to the region’s arts and culture through traveling exhibitions, museum loans, and research projects.

“The Kingdom of Morocco is home to a significant cultural heritage documenting human history, beginning with the discovery of the oldest known remains of Homo sapiens, dating from antiquity, to the rich heritage of the Islamic period,” Morocco noted in its request to the United States for import restrictions pursuant to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, to which Morocco became a State Party back in 2003. “For quite some time, Morocco’s movable heritage has been the target of crimes that violate the ownership and integrity of major national sites and monuments.”

Under the United States’s 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA), any State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention can request that the United States restrict importation of its archaeological and ethnological material, absent proof the objects left the country legally. Art and artifacts that are legally exported—or, unfortunately, even those that were illegally exported before restrictions go into effect—are not impacted (though they may be protected by other U.S. law). The U.S. Department of State’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee reviewed Morocco’s request in October 2019, alongside a request from Yemen

With today’s signing, the United States now has agreements with a growing number of countries in the Maghreb, including Egypt (2016), Libya (2018), and Algeria (2019)—demonstrating the region’s desire to work with international partners to fight cultural racketeering, while also sharing their rich heritage with the world.

About the Antiquities Coalition 

The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organizations. This plunder for profit funds crime and conflict around the world—erasing our past and threatening our future. The Coalition’s innovative and practical solutions tackle crimes against heritage head on, empowering communities and countries in crisis. Learn more at


202.798.5245 (T)

AC Financial Crimes Task Force Chairs Welcome NDAA Regulations in New York Times Article

As we announced in a press statement here, on January 1, Congress passed H.R.6395, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA)—which, among other things, removes antiquities dealers’ current exemption from what are now standard anti-money laundering (AML) laws and regulations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).

We followed this post with two additional blogs, one answering frequently asked questions and one delving into what changes should come next.

Major news outlets were equally eager to explore the history and implications of this anti-money laundering milestone, with the New York Times publishing an article on the topic on its website on January 1.

In writing “Congress Poised to Apply Banking Regulations to Antiquities Market,” New York Times contributor Zachary Small spoke with John Byrne, who serves not only as AMLRightSource’s executive vice president, but also as a chair on the Antiquities Coalition’s Financial Crimes Task Force.

“We believe this type of legislation is long overdue,” Byrne said in a quote. “This is an area where clearly organized crime, terrorists, and oligarchs have used cultural artifacts to move illicit funds.”

Small also interviewed Antiquities Coalition Executive Director and Financial Crimes Task Force Chair Tess Davis.

“The proposed legislation will begin to close a major loophole,” Davis said in a quote, highlighting the long-standing discrepancy between pawn shops, which are regulated by the Bank Secrecy Act, and auction houses, which have historically been exempt. “Why should the rules be stricter for a mom-and-pop business hawking stereos in Milwaukee than a billion-dollar auction house in Manhattan?”

In the kicker, Small returns to Byrne, who debunks the primary talking point of those in the art world who oppose increased regulation.

“You have to know who is buying and selling,” Byrne said in a quote. “The argument that you have no obligation to report suspicious activity because you are in the private sector doesn’t work. Banks lost that argument 30 years ago.”

To read the full New York Times article, click here.

AC Financial Crimes Task Force Chair John Byrne Highlights AML-Strengthening Implications of NDAA

The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is all but sure to become U.S. law as of December 17, having passed in Congress with a 335-78 vote in the House on December 8 and a 84-13 vote in the Senate on December 11. While White House Press Secretary told reporters on December 15 that President Donald Trump intends to veto the bill, the chambers are expected to override such a veto with another vote.

Should the NDAA become law, it would also enact the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, described by AMLRightSource as “the first major reform to the AML infrastructure since adoption of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

AMLRightSource Executive Vice President John Byrne—also a chair on the Antiquities Coalition’s Financial Crimes Task Force—highlighted the strengths of this legislation in the December 11 episode of AMLRightSource’s flagship podcast, This Week in AML, as well as in an interview for an article (“U.S. Senate passes defense bill with new anti-laundering measures”) published on December 14 by Thomson Reuters, described as “the world’s leading provider of news and information-based tools to professionals.”

Byrne’s key takeaways on the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 include: 

  • Examiners from the various federal agencies would have to undergo more in-depth training:  “While examiners do get trained, there has always been concern that sometimes, because of what they’re focused on, they don’t always see the forest from the trees—not an overt criticism, but one I think is justified,” Byrne told AMLRightSource Creative Director Elliot Berman on This Week in AML. “So in this bill … a training program for examiners from the various federal agencies will be created, and it’s got to include risk profiles, financial crime patterns, and—to me, what’s very important—an understanding of why the programs are necessary for law enforcement and how they can result, sometimes, in de-risking. So I think that, in addition to the current training that goes on, this is a welcomed addition.”
  • FinCEN would be tasked with soliciting additional feedback from institutions on suspicious activity reports and discussing trends:  The Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 will obligate the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) “to share feedback with regulators—and, in some cases, disclose to individual institutions when they can, information on the utility of SARS filed,” Byrne told Berman on This Week in AML. “I think that’s very valuable.”
  • Overall, its enactment would greatly benefit anyone with a stake in anti-money laundering efforts, including advocates against cultural racketeering:  “Since this is the most dramatic series of potential changes to the AML infrastructure since the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001, I am extremely impressed by the bipartisan work to address reporting, innovation, de-risking and examiner training challenges among many other areas.” Byrne told journalist Brett Wolf in Thomson Reuters. “This is a very real opportunity to improve AML and to address long neglected gaps such as with antiquities dealers and the art market.”

The full Thomson Reuters article is currently only available to clients subscribed to Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence, a resource solution that Thomson Reuters promotes in its brochure as delivering “global coverage of over 1,000 regulatory bodies and more than 2,500 collections of regulatory and legislative materials.”

To listen to the full episode of This Week in AML, click here.