Do money launderers target the art world?

May 15 2013

Image of Do money launderers target the art world?


Yes, according to an article by Charlotte Burns in The Art Newspaper:

Art lends itself to money laundering because the market’s lack of transparency means art can become what De Sanctis calls an “invisible asset”. Values can be manipulated, and complex ownership schemes, with an emphasis on secrecy, are commonplace. “Art has the advantage of being portable and easy to store anonymously, and it can be bought and sold relatively anonymously in different parts of the world. Therefore, the art market has been, and continues to be, a target for money launderers,” says Pierre Valentin, a partner at the law firm Constantine Cannon.

I can't think of any occasion when I've suspected a potential buyer to be a money launderer, however. That said, there's a major impediment to using Old Masters for money laundering - export regulations. In the UK, for example, any painting over 50 years old which is worth more than £130,000 needs an export licence before it can leave the country (a painting worth less is of no use to criminals really). For portraits of historical figures the threshold is even lower - just £10,000. Old art, therefore, comes with a guaranteed, government-regulated paper trail. So according the criteria set out above, only modern and contemporary art is of any use to the money launderer.

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