PUBL: “Behind the Supposed ‘Billion-Dollar’ Illicit Antiquities Market“; by Maria Goretti Tai (Art and Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter)

Photo: TIAMSA/Johannes Nathan

The trade of art and antiquities has been called the laundromat for illicit money. Thus, a United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ report proposed an amendment to the Bank Secrecy Act: it suggested that the art industry be included in the monitoring by regulatory bodies. Research conducted by the RAND Corporation, based on an analysis of open source-data, presents a different picture, however. If RAND’s findings do indeed provide a truer depiction of the art market and its realities, then the Senate’s proposed policy changes will fail to tackle the real issues the art industry is facing.

It appears, for instance, that a substantial amount of looted antiquities do not enter the conventional art markets at all but are sold through local markets, often – and wrongly – considered to be unimportant. Here, art trafficking networks exist at a variety of levels, from clanlike structures to freelance amateurs who work with social media instead of high-tech encrypted technology in order to sell looted artefacts. Altogether, further research into the characteristics of this and other markets is sorely needed if policymakers are to devise effective means to control the art industry, as well as the illicit antiquities market.

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About the Author:

Maria Goretti Tai holds a Master of Laws from UCLA (USA), a Master in Arts from Domus Academy (Italy) and a Bachelor of Arts from The University of Hong Kong. She is currently collaborating with The Intellectual Property Group, P.L.L.C., New York, NY and Washington, DC. She writes on art law, cultural heritage law, entertainment law and fashion law. Her main area of research is in the intersections of international law and art law on the governance and statutory protection of cultural heritage. As a public interest initiative she hosted a public lecture in Hong Kong for the exhibition “Ever Closer Union – The Legacy of the Treaties of Rome for Today’s Europe” in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome.