Art Law Report

U.S. Senate Report Takes a Swing at Money Laundering in the Art Market But Strikes Out on Substance

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 12, 2020 at 2:41 PM

A recent report by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (headlined by Chairman Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Ranking Member Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware) has drawn widespread attention for its damning statements about the international art market. Focusing on purchases of art from major auction houses by Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, two Russian nationals described as “oligarchs” by the report, the Subcommittee makes a series of pronouncements about the supposed prevalence of money laundering in the art market, and the need for regulation to address this perceived problem. Yet upon closer read, the report is a recycling of clichés about the art market, a detailed description about the considerable diligence by the auction houses far beyond what any even theoretical regulation would require (thus begging the question of what lesser regulation would accomplish), and no discussion or empathy at all for the vast majority of small art businesses that could not possibly comply with such regulation and stay in business, let alone actually combat money laundering. In other words, in concluding that two men laundered money, the Senate committee deduces that the practice is rampant. This hardly follows as a matter of logic. Far from supporting the case for sweeping financial regulation of the art market, the report unintentionally makes the opposite point.

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Topics: OFAC, Vladimir Putin, Uniform Commercial Code, House of Representatives, New York Times, Responsible Art Market initiative, Money laundering, FinCEN, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Boris Rotenberg, oligarch, shell companies, suspicious activity reports, Banking Secrecy Act, Politically Exposed Persons, Arkady Rotenberg, Treasury, ultimate beneficial owner, UBO, Corporate Transparency Act of 2019, Tom Carper, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Rob Portman

Bill Introduced in U.S. House of Representatives Would Impose Money Laundering Reporting Requirements on Art Dealers

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 24, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Casting aspersions about the art market is a popular pastime.  And no doubt there is much about the commercial art world that invites this criticism, not least a tendency towards secrecy (or discretion, depending whom you ask).  Sometimes these criticisms lean into suggestions of rampant criminality or money laundering, for which there is actually scant support. That is to say, there is a common suggestion that the lack of a single regulatory scheme over the art market (which is not to say it is unregulated, another misconception) is evidence of participation by dealers or collectors in illicit activity. In fact, as we have written before, the far greater risk is of being used by bad actors trying to launder money through art transactions.  For this and other reasons, we were proud to assist in drafting the Responsible Art Market initiative U.S. country guide and the more recent toolkit that was launched in January.

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Topics: OFAC, Christie's Inc., Responsible Art Market initiative, Money laundering, AML Program, Know your customer, H.R. 5886, Luke Messer, Office of Foreign Asset Control, Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Protection, KYC

Recap and Analysis: Responsible Art Market Initiative Launched in Geneva

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on February 1, 2017 at 9:35 AM

I was pleased to attend last week in Geneva “Building an Art Market for the Future—Guidelines for Countering Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Threats” hosted by the Fondation pour le Droit d’Art (Art Law Foundation) and the Art Law Centre of the University of Geneva.  The conference was the official launch of the Responsible Art Market initiative, and offered valuable, market-focused discussion about the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing in the art market.  Refreshingly, the day’s panel discussions focused on best practices and goals, rather than the oft-heard lamentations about problems with the art market.  The implicit point that came through was a powerful one: as both private sellers and law enforcement speakers explained, art dealers are not engaged in large-scale shadowy financial dealings.  But art dealers and buyers are at serious risk of being used by criminals engaged in money laundering, which can have serious consequences.  Because willful blindness is no defense, the conference and the initiative provided valuable practical advice.

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Topics: Pierre Gabus, Anne Laure Bandle, Art Dealers Association of Switzerland, Art Law Foundation, Geneva, Sandrine Giroud, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Art Law Centre, University of Geneva, AML, Terrorist financing, Sylvia Furrer Hoffmann, Ricardo Sansoletti, Ursula Cassani, Simon Studer, Mathilde Heaton, Fondation pour le Droit d’Art, Jean-Bernard Schmid, Rakhi Talwar, Ralph Wyss, Responsible Art Market initiative, Money laundering, Stiftung Kunsthalle, Bern, Deloitte

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About the Blog


The Art Law Report provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities. It is authored by Nicholas M. O'Donnell, partner in our Art & Museum Law Practice.

The material on this site is for general information only and is not legal advice. No liability is accepted for any loss or damage which may result from reliance on it. Always consult a qualified lawyer about a specific legal problem.

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