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The AC Digs Into: Impact, Risks, and Mitigating Controls for Trafficking and Money Laundering in Art and Antiquities

March 11, 2020

The global art and antiquities industry, valued at around $45 billion, is often referred to as the largest unregulated market in the world. The sheer scale and unrestricted nature of this market—in addition to the prevailing lack of transparency and communication between art market shareholders (e.g., financial institutions, law enforcement, legal professionals, ancillary services, art dealers, auction houses, etc.)—have made it a hotbed for fraud, forgery, tax evasion, money laundering, sanctions violations, and even terrorist financing.

Antiquities Coalition Executive Director Tess Davis spoke on the impact, risks, and mitigating controls for trafficking and money laundering in art and antiquities for those attending the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists Chicago Chapter’s March 11 event held at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Key takeaways included:

  • The Impact:  An untold number of the art market’s “legitimate” artifacts were actually pillaged from archaeological sites, robbed from graves, or raided from temples, then trafficked onto the art market by criminal organizations in a practice known as “cultural racketeering.” These mafia syndicates, armed insurgents, and terrorist groups use the sales of these “blood antiquities”—as well as the profits made from other financial crimes committed on the art market—to fund violent crime and conflict all over the world.
  • The Risks:  Collectors should be wary of antiquities from areas in crisis, antiquities of a noncommercial and significant nature, antiquities that were originally immoveable, antiquities that are seemingly underpriced, and—above all else—antiquities with little to no provenance. To avoid a wasted investment or even jail time, collectors would be wise to not only investigate the provenance of their potential purchases thoroughly, but also demand the same “due diligence” from the dealers, galleries, and auction houses they patronize. Art market participants should also remain vigilant against art crimes beyond cultural trafficking by studying the Responsible Art Market Initiative’s red flags, detailed here.
  • The Mitigating Controls:  The European Union is making headway in its fight against art crimes, having recently passed measures requiring dealers operating in participating countries to implement anti-money laundering programs. The United States has been relatively slower to act, but last year, legislation was proposed that would add “dealers in art or antiquities” to the list of regulated financial institutions falling under the Bank Secrecy Act. Also in 2019, the Antiquities Coalition launched its Financial Crimes Task Force, uniting leaders from the art, legal, and banking sectors—as well as former law enforcement and government officials—in working together to develop concrete recommendations for combatting a wide range of art crimes.

To learn more about the impact, risks, and mitigating controls for trafficking and money laundering in art and antiquities, download the presentation slides here.