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Art Of Laundering Art

Government needs to look at this godly wealth seriously, audit the stupendous accumulation over time ,& protect as a national treasure.Precaution will terminate loot.

Photo Credit : Representational Image / PTI


Thomas Christ of Basel Institute of Governance says it all, when he writes that "Art market is an ideal playing ground for money laundering".Peter Hardy ,a former US prosecutor,observes that" illicit art & antiquities" is quite common in USA & EU ,as reported by Tom Mashberg , a New York Times writer ,in a recent IMF  publication.

Data reveals that the legitimate art market is valued at $ 67 billion annually worldwide ,of which 10% is illicit , according  to UN office on drugs & crime.50% of this amount of $ 6 billion is attributable to money laundering & financial crimes.

What is illicit art?? 4 categories exist according to Tom....thefts, fakes,illegal imports or smuggling ,& organized looting.Matters evidently are going out of hand, it appears, as one of the oldest & biggest art galleries in London, was recently seized by British regulators.Charge was proved that Piccasso paintings were fraudulently traded to launder money.

What was once considered a "genteel pursuit", is coming under the scanner of enforcement authorities globally.Laws are being amended in USA & EU, to ensure reporting  of "large , unusually complex or secretive transactions" in art , writes Tom.Result is clear...anonymity is such transactions will become  increasingly difficult.Policing art will gain ascendancy, on the lines of banking or brokerage, as huge money is noticed in art dealings, along with smuggling of artifacts from war ravaged countries.Clandestine traffic of art will not be so easy, as in the past.

What has led to all  this  ??.Tom reports that drug lords,oil sheikhs,&" kleptocrats"
find it easiest to use art ,as a tool to legitimise their Ill gotten wealth.Modus operandi is to over invoice a subtle art as  painting ,which is amenable to subjective valuation, & take it in lieu of cash by drug dealers.Once the books of accounts are settled ,the paintings are sold back by drug dealers for the laundered money.US authorities have also found terrorists ransacking old historical sites in war torn world ,& selling  looted art. FBI & Interpol
find that  hitherto unregulated art market is coming under greater exposure of regulators.

From the art trader's perspective there are 3 strong arguments...Tom reports that International Confederation of art  & antique Dealers Association finds reporting requirements too cumbersome for small dealers.Consequently, lot of small dealers may exit this trade ,instead of subjecting themselves to regulatory harassment.It is also highlighted that genuine art collectors will suffer,as all are not in the business of converting white to black. Art is serious investment today.

India  finds reference in Tom's writing as it has lakhs of old temples all over the  country. Thefts have taken place since decades if not centuries.Such antiquities have been used by wicked priests for curency exchange .Later they find way to big buyers in Hongkong or Bankok shown as replicas.Art collectors , in league with middlemen & temple authorities or crooks, have looted India of its ancient wealth ,even after Independence.

Indian laws need to be carefully studied in tune with USA & EU legal amendments ,so that international trafficking in art is suitably controlled. All art sales above a certain threshold amount, should be through banking or digital channels .Gst rates on art & artifacts should converge with bullion rates to curb smuggling & evasion.Sale of art through foreign exchange must be regulated to prevent frauds.Finally, our myriad temples,need to be adequately guarded ,to consciously control clandestine evacuation of God's property.

In God's own country ,lies the largest reported wealth of rs 50000 crores in Padmanabha temple.100 top temples in the country carry 10000 tonnes of gold, reportedly collected over centuries. Government needs to look at this godly wealth seriously, audit the stupendous accumulation over time ,& protect as a national treasure.Precaution will terminate loot.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
money laundering

J.K. Dadoo

The author is a retired IAS officer

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