Democrats won’t be happy that Hunter Biden’s artistic efforts have shone the spotlight on corruption in the art world, but they have no excuse not to act.
President Joe Biden embraces his family at the 59th Presidential Inauguration Ceremony in Washington, January 20, 2021 (DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II / Wikimedia Commons)
Hunter Biden’s mediocre art provided a lot of fodder for the tabloids and raised serious concerns questions on the ethics of the president’s son grabbing hundreds of thousands of dollars from unidentified buyers for his scribbles. the controversies surrounding Hunter’s burgeoning artistic career, however, shone the spotlight on the art world’s notorious lack of transparency, which allowed everything from looting from cultural heritage to terrorist financing.
there is still enough flaws in the art market, including in the United States, to fill an Olympic stadium, despite some attempts to solve the problem. More recently, the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced new rules aimed at cracking down on the gray areas that have attracted drug dealers, terrorists and crooks to the art and antiques market.
There is however a big fly in the ointment: TThe new Treasury decision does not actually do many. While Axes claims that, thanks to the new FinCEN rules, “the arts andd antique dealers in the United States will soon be deprived of much of the privacy and anonymity that both defined the market and enabled corruption,“ the reality is that the new rule mainly clamps down on the antiques trade and simply calls for further investigation in the U.S. share of the global art market of $ 50 billion. Those who know how to exploit perennial loopholes, offshore entities, and other tips, such as Douglas latchford, once rented Cambodian art scholar who used offshore vehicles to trade artifacts he illegally had survey Cambodian temples—will continue to exploit these gaps in surveillance.
Let’s be clear: FinCEN has both the capacity and the incentive to do more to address this problem. In fact, a recent analysis identified the art market as one of the three sectors representing “the most accessible fruit” for the United States.S. Department of the Treasury to face, and the White House itself reported the art market as a hub for shady deals, something that has shown great irony given Hunter’s ngocurrent art exhibition.
FinCEN’s lackluster new rules point to a larger problem: the lack of appetite to crack down on the dark side of the art world. The largest art markets, including the United States, UK, and Switzerland, have served for too long as a platfform for the exchange of massive sums of unregulated capital without sufficient supervision.
Even when large-scale schemes are discovered, such as the case of US hedge fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt, who recently went to about 70 kmlion of antiquities looted and smuggled illegally, serious consequences for offenders are rare. Steinhardthas denied committing any wrongdoing, but was described by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance as “[displaying] a rapacious appetite for carefree looted artifacts for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the serious cultural damage he caused. While he has received a rare lifetime ban from the antiques market, he will not face criminal charges for the looted artifacts.
This failure to crack down on the darkest in the art worldide will allow terrorists, criminals, and a corrupt cadre of elites who thrive in the illegal art trade. Eliminating crime in the art world should be an urgent political priority: our failure to do so has funneled money into the coffers of corrupt cartels and terrorist groups, including ISIS and Hezbollah. As 2017 U.NOT. Security Council resolution highlighted, groups like ISIS made a murder—up to $ 7 billion–anonymously steal and sell valuable cultural objects and works of art.
The intrinsic lack of trans in the art marketparenthood has also caught the attention of autocrats, manufacturing looted art, an essential source of income for Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela and help fuel the government of Azerbaijan under leader Ilham Aliev. The Azerbaijani laundry scandal, in which the country paid officials of foreign governments to cover up its human rights violations, exposed Azerbaijan’s corrupt elite and revealed how expensive art centers known as “Free ports” in Genevaa and Luxembourgish served to enrich the figures related to the lAutomatique.
The Geneva and Luxembourg free ports offer “offshore” advantages, allowing art should be stored and traded with minimal supervision. The facilities required special legislation to create their “parallel fiscal univecsr,“ and while the managers of the free port bother to insist that safes comply with anti-money laundering regulations, politicians and industry experts are skeptical. “I can’t Iimagine a better way for people to launder money than to go through a free port,” warned the founder of a company specializing in recoveryillegal expropriation art. It is therefore not surprising that antiquities looted from war zones in the Middle East have arose in Swiss franc ports.
All over the world, it’s the same story: The gray areas of the art market have been golden opportunities for tyrannical regimes and criminal enterprises to curry favor and tto transfer large sums under the table. Democrats, of course, will not be thrilled that he is Hunter Biden’s artistic endeavors that shined the international spotlight on it all, but there is no plausible excuse for them to continue to base on real and effective legislation to fight against loopholes, fraud, and corruption in the art world. If we continue to allow the art market to be the unregulated park of the rich and powerful, it will also be serve as a cover for countless terrorists and fraudsters around the globe.
Paul Brian is a freelance journalist. He reported for the BBC, Reuters, and Foreign police, and contributed to the The week, the Federalist, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian or visit his site www.paulrbrian.com.