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International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Quotes AC Executive Director Tess Davis in Groundbreaking Report

October 21, 2020

A “shadowy shell company” known as Pantheon Worldwide Limited has conducted several million dollars worth of transactions in cash and antiquities with alleged art traffickers, according to a recent development in the “FinCEN Files” investigation, which took the global anti-money laundering industry by storm when its findings were published last month.

In “Mystery company ties accused temple raiders to art world elite,” Spencer Woodman, a reporter with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, breaks down the key findings of a suspicious activity report that had been leaked to BuzzFeed News and shared with ICIJ.

According to Woodman’s analysis, Pantheon Worldwide Limited’s operations—reportedly based in London and Hong Kong—were a mystery not only to Hong Kong authorities, but also to the bank compliance officers of the London-based Standard Chartered Bank, with which Pantheon maintained three accounts.

“They were uncertain about the purpose of the company and didn’t even seem to know where it was registered—the most basic information needed to assess whether it might be a front for money laundering or other financial crime,” Woodman wrote.

To better understand this stark lack of transparency—long considered key to the status quo of the art world—and how it promotes the looting and trafficking of art and antiquities, Woodman interviewed Antiquities Coalition Executive Director Tess Davis.

“Archaeological sites around the world are being destroyed on an industrial scale,” Davis said. “We are losing chapters of history.”

This report is just one product of a 16-month-long investigation by ICIJ, BuzzFeed News, and 108 other media partners in 88 countries, which explored a slew of secret financial intelligence reports—including more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports—that had been filed with the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

According to a summary article by ICIJ Project Manager and Editor Fergus Shiel and ICIJ Senior Editor Dean Starkman, “The findings expose – from the inside – the consequences of allowing banks themselves to lead the world’s anti-money laundering defenses against kleptocracy, crime and terror, even as they earn huge profits from these same malefactors. They also show how laundered money provides the lifeblood for corrupt authoritarian regimes and the enemies of democracy worldwide.”

One of the major loopholes criminals use to launder money in the United States is the Bank Secrecy Act’s exemption for art and antiquities dealers, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded in an August report. Without the regulation afforded by the BSA, art and antiquities dealers are under no obligation to assist the U.S. government in preventing and detecting financial crimes.

To help the U.S. government stamp financial crime out of the $28.3 billion U.S. art market, the Antiquities Coalition’s nonpartisan think tank convened the Financial Crimes Task Force. This diverse group of experts worked to create 44 recommendations for the U.S. government, the U.S. financial industry, the U.S. art and antiquities sector and the international community. The policies, practices and priorities it released on September 24—including a call for Congress to explicitly apply the BSA to dealers in cultural property—can be implemented to protect the American art market from money laundering, terrorist financing, sanctions violations, tax evasion, fraud, forgery, and related crimes.

For more information about the Financial Crimes Task Force and its recent report, click here.