An overwhelming volume of false data is used to promote the idea that the art market is a haven for international crime. Exaggerated claims of cultural goods trafficking is detrimental to public interest.

The way in which some studies report on illicit trafficking often suggests that cultural property looting and trafficking is a widespread problem in western markets, yet the evidence shows otherwise, including within every one of the eight major reports of recent years[1]

According to the FBI, Interpol and insurance companies, the single largest cause of crime linked to artworks is domestic burglary – a misdemeanour that does not involve the art market.

In February 2022, the US Treasury published Study of the Facilitation of Money Laundering and Terror Finance through the trade in Works of Art[2]. Case studies showed that perpetrators exploiting art for money laundering were almost never art market professionals. In other words, money laundering tends to involve attempts to launder the proceeds of non-art related crimes by using art as a conduit (non-market specific) rather than art crime itself (market specific).

Those who have published, or continue to publish, bogus data include (but are not limited to) the European Commission, Interpol, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, UNESCO, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and numerous academic studies.

Bogus data has been used to justify the introduction of new initiatives and important legislation, including the European Union’s 2019 import licensing regulations governing cultural property and AML proposals which have far-reaching implications for international trade, privacy rights and private property.

Why does this matter? Because it is against the public interest and can lead to more victims:

  • It creates unnecessary bureaucracy, thereby stifling legitimate business interests across the art and antiques market without due cause.
  • It leads to the persecution of legitimate business and private individuals in breach of fundamental human rights, including property rights and privacy rights. – These measures frequently involve official support from Western governments and law enforcement for undemocratic regimes as they pursue unjustified art claims prompted by propaganda and other agendas.
  • The long-term consequence will be a great fall-off in the number of people collecting, who are vital to the conservation and preservation of mainstream and minor artworks that underpin the whole field of cultural heritage.
  • It means valuable resources are directed away from where they are most needed: in protecting vulnerable heritage sites around the world and targeting the real criminals.
  • The mere perception that the art market is both vulnerable to money laundering and unregulated creates incentives for criminals to further abuse the art market.

The CINOA document Fighting Bogus Information About the Art Market 2022  highlights many of the problem areas, identifies primary sources and provides direct links to them for the purpose of independent verification. It gives chapter and verse on inaccurate information published by otherwise respected bodies.

[1] The government financed reports are: Germany’s Illicid report (2015), the European Commission reportsDeloitte (2017) and Ecorys (2019), the USA’s The RAND Organisation Report (2020) and now the US Treasury Report (February 2022).  Institutional reports are: Study by King’s College in London into ISIS financing (2017)WCO Illicit Trade Reports, and the2020 Trade Based Money Laundering report by The Egmont Group.

[2] See Study of the Facilitation of Money Laundering and Terror Finance through the trade in Works of Art.