Stories of art and money laundering tend to be media friendly, and often involve the wealthy behaving poorly. In one notorious case, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) seized, via a civil forfeiture action, Jean Michel Basquiat’s 1981 painting, Hannibal. This work — later returned to Brazil by the DOJ — had been smuggled into the U.S. by Edemar Cid Ferreira, a former Brazilian banker who was convicted of money laundering and other offenses, and who allegedly converted some of his laundered proceeds into a significant art collection. According to the DOJ, although Hannibal had been appraised at a value of $8 million, it had been smuggled by Ferreira into the U.S. from Brazil, via the Netherlands, with false shipping invoices stating that the contents of the shipment were worth $100. Other stories provide less genteel tales of drug cartels, terrorist organizations and other criminal syndicates financing themselves through systemic looting and the illicit antiquities trade.
One of the best things about Goodreads is keeping a TBR list...that list that gets longer every month and nags at you when you start reading the new hot book instead. It's that nagging (just like a mother's "sit up straight!") that makes you really take a second look at the books you've been meaning to read forever and realize from reviews that you really should.
The cringeworthy part of the story is when the Times trots out the continuing battle between Yves Bouvier and Dimitry Rybolovlev to suggest malfeasance because Mr. Bouvier was allowed to sell a work for Mr. Rybolovlev but not pass the money through to his client. The joke here is that Rybolovlev, a Russian who lives in Monaco and banks in Cyprus while engaging is massive art deals and, separately, massive real estate deals, is a guy with the kind of profile that pops red flags in KYC reviews for more detailed review.
The indictment says that Sack and Katzen promoted themselves as fine art dealers who were "capable of selling various works of art to be paid for in cash, as a way to launder money earned through illegal drug trafficking. The pair "offered to resell overseas any works of art first sold by them," the indictment says. One of the acts alleged as part of the conspiracy was the purchase of a cash-counting machine to sort out any counterfeit bills from the millions the pair expected to receive, the indictment says. The conspiracy took place in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, the U.S. says.
Regardless of whether this provision ultimately is enacted, the underlying issue will persist. This post discusses some of the general concerns that the art and antiquities world can be misused as a conduit for dirty money. We then discuss the AML Standards for Art Market Operators proposed by the Basel Institute on Governance, and similar standards set forth by the Responsible Art Market, both of which attempt to set forth a framework for those in the business of trading art to mitigate their money laundering risks.
Any art object—paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, fine furniture, and decorative pieces of all kinds—can be forged. The difficulty of forging, however, is as important as market price in determining what is forged. Probably fewer than 1 percent of stone sculptures are false because they require so much labour to make and their market is limited, but as many as 10 percent of modern French paintings on the market may be forgeries. The technical difficulties in making a convincing imitation of an ancient Greek vase are so great that forgeries are almost nonexistent. In contrast the forgery level of tiny archaic Greek and Cretan bronze statuettes, which are simple to cast, is possibly as high as 50 percent. A forger is most likely to succeed with a mediocre piece in the middle price range because such a piece probably will never be subjected to definitive examination. Although the price should be low enough to allay suspicion, the object can still yield a fair return for the effort expended by the forger.
Another reason that art fraud is difficult to control is that the art market is enormous, unwieldy, and greatly varied, embracing items from Victorian buttons to 6th-century Greek vases and from medieval pilgrim badges to contemporary photographs. Business is often conducted under the veil of secrecy, with buyers wishing to remain anonymous to avoid the attention of burglars and other opportunists. It would be logistically impossible to monitor all of the transactions between dealers, private collectors, and museums that are in the business of acquiring art. Suspected art forgeries are generally considered on a case-by-case basis, because they can usually be identified only by an expert in the field. But it is not unusual for two experts to have wildly different opinions of the authenticity of the same object, based in each case on reputable evidence.