Is Art Financing Terrorism?

World Art News investigation into the dark side of the art world based on Dmitry Tamoikin’s groundbreaking counter-terrorism report “Is Art Financing Terrorism – Wakeup Call to Authorities Worldwide”

Is there Counter-Terrorism

in the International Art World?

Art and terrorism seem to be worlds apart, however what most people perceive as heritage and culture – criminal organizations see as cold hard cash. Cash that is hard to trace and very easy to move undetected through the borders of any country. Authorities worldwide must wake up and treat this as a major security threat!

Throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s, the international community at large and law enforcement agencies began cracking down on organized crime. In today’s parlance, this battle is called: “The War On Terror”. Initially, the strategy was to stop illegal cash flow, specifically money intended for the end user—a criminal on the ground within the country. Lo and behold, a $10,000 limit was set. Any denomination of cash over $10,000 required declaration at any, and all border crossings. Banks were required by law to report all incoming wire transfers exceeding $10,000 to law enforcement agencies. This is when contractual justification and detailed information regarding the sender and beneficiary became obligatory.

However, the vast majority of the general public didn’t see many benefits from this new policy, and thought it was nuisance and infringement on their rights. A decade later in 2001, the world experienced the biggest terrorist act conspired by man—September 11th attacks struck America. Al Qaeda money was funnelled from multiple global locations directly into the United States. There were no red flags until it was too late…

The Financing of the 9/11 Plot

9/11 plotters spent somewhere between $400,000-$500,000, the bulk of the money provided by Al Qaeda. The origin of the funds remains unknown. But after an extensive investigation, clear evidence reveals the financial transactions responsible for supporting the 9/11 plot. A series of untraceable transactions went through a gigantic international and domestic financial system to move and store the money from anonymous hijackers and financial facilitators. So the existing mechanisms to prevent financial abuse did not play a role because they were never designed to detect or disrupt the type of transactions used to finance 9/11.

UNT Libraries / US Government Documents Dept. [1]

Untraceable transactions is the key phrase. The art market is one of the last unregulated markets on the planet—it’s a thriving haven for untraceable transactions, extreme privacy, shady clients, under the table deals, and big money.

When we are talking about art we mean high-end “movable cultural property” consisting of very expensive art, antiques, and collectibles. Each item far exceeds the $100,000 benchmark.

There are lots of art, antiques, and collectibles in every nation, city, and town. Truth be told: there will never be a shortage. The market is now a factory because of the latest modern art hype and popularity. Many of these modern creations are selling for multimillions of dollars at top auctions around the world. Supply and demand brings you liquidity. More importantly, you get extremely valuable, highly liquid, easy to buy or make objects not recognized by most people, which includes customs and border protection officers.

“Suprematist Composition”

Kazimir Malevich

Sold at Sotheby’s for $60 Million US [17]


Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982

Sold at Christies for $48.4 Million US [18]

Customs And Border Protection

Customs officers don’t have a clue about how to identify valuable art and antiques. It is not part of their training. They unknowingly let these items through all entry points. A single antique can be worth significantly more than ten kilograms of heroin. Now, it is easy to see the full extent of the danger involved. The money made from the sale of these artworks can support an entire Al Qaeda terrorist group for an entire year. To prevent an incident is tough because the money will be hard to trace and identify in time.

Common Art Smuggling Operations

Operation #1: Freight containers: Large items that cannot be taken on a plane, like a painting or sculpture is shipped by a rented container loaded with similar paintings and sculptures. Inexpensive replicas are purchased in Asia. What’s in-between those copies is the original artwork. At the country’s entry point, smugglers reveal legitimate import documents for the goods inside the container, excluding the valuable original artwork—pay taxes and enter. The smuggled item is never detected, even upon inspection. Customs will not suspect fraud. Smugglers act as mailmen, who are unaware of the situation in play.

Wikipedia [2] [3]

Operation #2: Mail Couriers transport small, light and compact items. A small statuette is shipped via regular or priority mail. These items are shipped to any address with a tracking number. On the declaration this item is depicted as a carved souvenir. The standard declared value is $100 or less. Customs detecting fraud is practically nonexistent. Safe arrival of the valued asset is 99 percent guaranteed.

The miniscule size and astronomical value of these historic pieces makes them easy to mail. When smugglers (terrorists) want to be 100 percent sure an item like this arrives safely to its destination, they will make nineteen copies and send four priority packages containing five statues each.

Guennol Lioness

Year: 3rd millennium BC
Type: Limestone
Size: 8.3 cm (3.25 in)
Location: Private collection

Price: $57.2 Million USD

The Guennol Lioness is a 5,000-year old Mesopotamian statue found near
Baghdad, Iraq, depicting a well-muscled anthropomorphic lioness.

It sold for $57.2 million at Sotheby’s auction house on December 5, 2007.

Wikipedia [4]

Operation #3: Airports. Items with visible value too risky to send by mail, mostly gold and diamond jewelry, are registered as regular jewelry and pass through all airport security and customer checkpoints with no problem. A male and female smuggler (working for a client) can walk out of the most secure airport’s front door—while wearing 10 million dollars of bracelets, necklaces, and rings. This operation is put into motion when funding is needed quickly.

The Chopard Blue Diamond Ring

Valued at
$16.26 Million USD [5]

Operation #4: Copy Switch. The method of delivery does not matter here. What is important is securing the documentation. Any item is shipped officially into a country under a temporary import permit. Then an identical copy is made once it is in country. What happens is the forged copy is exported. The original copy never leaves the country. Six months later, the forged copy of that import is put in a border service archive, which focuses on giving top priority to large shipments and more distinguished cargo. Now this item can be sold with no issues. Auction houses and galleries have no connection to customs offices, nor do they perform thorough background checks. Even though all the information is available, nobody connects the dots, since no direct database exists. When the item is sold, the money used to fund terrorist activities within the country is discovered after the incident. Only then will law enforcement put a plan together to crackdown on terror—and at that point it’s too late.

Wikipedia [6]

The real danger lies in the fact terrorists do not intend plan to exonerate themselves after committing the crime, unlike common criminals. What terrorists know is how slow the government is when responding and detecting fraud after internal audits, which does not happen often. They now have a large window of opportunity and the ability to use specific financial systems, like the art market with swift precision without having any concern for the repercussions. Authorities realize how September 11th was orchestrated but were not capable of stopping it.

Operation #5: Auction Shipping. This method is a completely legal way to ship an item. It would not be classified as smuggling. Although, this is an option available for people associated with terrorism. Any buyer working through a representative, asks the auction house/gallery to ship a purchased item to the auction house or any of its affiliates in the country of preference, where the representative can pick up the item. The buyer pays more for shipping and handling fees. Plus import taxes. Then the auction house handles the rest. The purchased item can be sold at the same auction house or its affiliate in the country of destination—six months to a year down the road. No flags come up because to the shipper, customs, and recipient it hails from a highly-esteemed auction house or gallery.

Screenshot: [7]

Screenshot: [8]

Customers and border protection services do not realize art is money in transit. They do not think about it supporting terrorism, and only associate art smuggling with lawless collectors, thieves, and avoidance of import taxes. The vast majority of customs officers view valuable art, antiques, and collectibles through the Hollywood guise. Expensive treasure is depicted as mountains of gold coins, fist-size sparkling rubies, or wondrous eight feet Renaissance paintings and statues. The reality is much different. Here is an example:

This is what customs officers are looking for.This is what sells for $37 Million US Dollars at an Auction.
By Michelangelo 
High Renaissance art. [9]
Madame L.R.
Sold in 2009 for: $37,623,104 [10]

Question: What customs official looking at the carved statue will associate Constantine Brancusi’s Madame L.R. with an item worth almost 40 million US dollars?

There are dozens of ways to smuggle items into any country from bribery to using political mail of corrupt foreign diplomats. Truthfully, smuggling is not the real problem. Sure, it is easy to blame the border protection authorities, but smuggling is a business that’s old as time, so the more restrictive borders become the more clever smugglers will be. Customs should react to this threat by providing art education for their personnel, which is only a small part of the solution. Authorities must go to the root, where it begins and ends—the places of purchase and final sale. With proper regulations, they can stop virtually all incidents from occurring.


For the last few years, the media have trumpeted contemporary art as the hottest new investment. At fairs, auction houses and galleries, an influx of new buyers many of them from the world of finance have entered the fray. Lifted by this tidal wave of new money, the number of thriving artists, galleries and consultants has rocketed upwards. Yet amid all this transformative change, one element has held stable: the art market’s murky modus operandi [mode of operation]. “In my experience, people coming from the finance world into the art market tend to be shocked by the level of opacity and murkiness’, says collector Greg Allen, a former financier who co-chairs MoMA’s Junior Associates board … ‘The art trade is the last major unregulated market’, points out Manhattan attorney Peter R. Stern, whose work frequently involves art-market cases. – [11]

Art and transparency are just the antithesis of one another. Yet, this is the single most effective tool to stop criminals from abusing this market. Complete client privacy between the buyer and seller is a policy all auction houses, galleries, and dealers practice, which provides terrorists with an opportunity to exploit. When published articles come out about expensive art sales at an auction house, 90 percent of the time, the names of the buyer and seller are anonymous. At the bottom of the article it usually states: “item sold into a private collection.” Most times, even the auction is unaware of who the real buyer and seller of the items even are. At a live, high-class auction, there are numerous agents next to telephones placing bids on the buyers behalf.

What happens is a very expensive item is sold from one private collection to another with auction houses in the middle. Money creates the loyalty factor when dealing with auction houses. They are hesitant to release any information about their high-net-worth clientele or even their representatives without a court order, which takes a lot of time to get, especially when a pressing investigation is taking place.

Do auction houses really know the Seller of every item they sell? The answer is no. Auction houses sell a lot of art, antiques and collectibles. It is not cost-effective to do a thorough background investigation on each item they sell. One may argue that auctions pay close attention to provenance of the item. Yes, art may have spotless provenance which is a pass for any auction. What no one is concerned about is the immediate owner with multiple foreign representatives and lawyers. As long as the item has decent provenance and is not in any stolen art database it is accepted for auction – this constitutes a formal background check.

Do auction houses really know the Buyer of every item they sell? Again the answer is no, they do not. Yes, they may know the name and banking information of the person on the other end of the phone, who is making the bid – however that person, almost always, is not the actual buyer. In case the item, that is being bid on, is intended for terrorist purposes, that person will not even be the buyer’s representative. Most likely that person will be an unsuspecting law-abiding lawyer who is contracted to place a bid. If this sounds too far-fetched so were the early pre 9/11 reports of a complex large-scale terrorist attack that could involve 19 terrorists and 4 passenger jets. In fact, to purchase an item, terrorists may create a chain of multiple representatives some of whom would not even suspect in what they are really involved.

When everything comes together, a very startling picture takes shape. An anonymous purchase happens with untraceable transport, which results in a final sale to a group of private collectors.

AnonymousAnonymous & UntraceableAnonymous
Purchase→Transport→SALE $

Very expensive mobile art can completely avoid all preventative measures and policies set in place by authorities. Here is a requote from earlier in the article:

The Financing 9/11 Plot

“The existing mechanisms to prevent abuse of the financial system did not fail. They were never designed to detect or disrupt transactions of the type that financed 9/11.”

UNT Libraries/U.S. Government Documents Dept. [1]

The financial backers of a terrorist group like Al Qaeda are far from being illiterate, mislead, or brainwashed. These combatants fully understand the cost of their actions. Although, three things remains clear: these people are sophisticated, very wealthy, and well-connected. The possibility of these people being in possession of a large private art collection is very possible. So having access to high-end art is not unheard of in any way, shape, or form. This makes transport and sale their only two concerns. Plus, many of these Middle-Eastern buyers have diplomatic passports, which means they and their luggage passes through any border without being searched or x-rayed.

“Without bias or prejudice, it is necessary to mention factual correlation between the regional/national background of 9/11 terrorists and the fact that Middle-Eastern collectors are becoming some of the biggest art buyers and investors in the world [16].”

Qatar and UAE have become huge international art hubs with top name auction houses, such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonham’s. The famous Guggenheim Museum is currently being constructed in Abu Dhabi. Of course, the majority of organizations and buyers use art for lawful and culturally beneficial means, it is inevitable some of them items have different goals, under the guise of art and culture.

Osama Bin Laden hailed from one of the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia. Virtually every member of the Saudi Royal Family, including Qatar and UAE, collects expensive art. “Considering that the Saudi Royal Family consists of approximately 15,000 members, a number of whom are associated with extremists [15].” A number of these individuals may use the guise of art as a way to fund terrorism, especially when their bank accounts are subject to scrutiny—but their art is not.

The intentions of this report is not intended to cause ethnic discrimination in the art market. But reveal the harsh reality of the situation at hand. Now is the time to push authorities to regulate the art market—so all active participants—irrespective of skin color or religious beliefs can create transactions in an open, safe, and free market.

Why Is Art Better Than Cash?

Wiring, shipping, storing, moving

1. Expansive art 80 per cent of the time does not look expensive at all.1. Cash always looks like cash.
2. Art can be small and mobile:

The 1933 double eagle (United States 20-dollar gold coin) sold at auction for $7.59 million USD.

Mass: 33.431 g
Diameter: 34.1 mm  (1.34252 in)
Thickness 2.0 mm  (0.07874 in)

Wikipedia [12]
2. Cash is big and hard to move:

7.5 Million USD in 100-dollar bills is roughly:

165 lb (75 kg) assorted in 23 packages that are 23.6 inches (60cm) high. [13]

‘Mexican military seizes $26m in cash’ [14]
3. Moving/Shipping Art is risk-free. Upon inspection or x-ray art looks like any other item, especially when located among similar items.3. Moving/Shipping cash poses high risk. If container/carrier is inspected or x-rayed cash will be detected.
4. Art can be shipped from Auction house to Auction house or Gallery to Gallery without revealing owners’ and buyers’ names, addresses and bank accounts to authorities.4. Wiring cash electronically Bank to Bank poses high risk of detection, especially with modern tracking technology and post 9/11 regulations.
5. Money gained from sale of art is automatically justified. Seller (terrorism financier) remains unexposed. One side risks exposure.5. Sender and receiver of wired cash require contractual justification and run the risk of exposing themselves. Two sides risk exposure.
6. Storing art is virtually risk free. Art can be stored at any location (offices, luxury living quarters, with acquaintances, storage units …) without suspicion or incrimination.6. Storing large amounts of cash poses risk from authorities as well as other criminals. It requires warehouses, hidden locations and security.

There are numerous other pros and cons. Although, these are the top six.

METRO NEWS | Canada | Monday, May 11, 2015

A Hypothetical Scenario

Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together

This hypothetical scenario accurately depicts each stage of a potential terrorist act, from start to finish, with art as its primary funding source. The objective is to show how harmless works of art, along with deregulated market conditions, plays a vital role in an enormously destructive event.


Stage 1 Terrorism financier, working through a line of representatives and brokers invests $5 million US in art. Purchases are done at various major auction houses in London, Amsterdam and Paris.
Stage 2Buyer’s lawyer requests all items to be shipped to the auction’s offices in major US city, where they will be picked up. Taxes and shipping fees are paid.
Stage 3All items arrive, are picked up by a legal representative, and disappear into a private collection. Future funding for arriving or home-grown terrorist groups is established and secured.
Stage 4Suicide bombers start training in camps within Pakistan, Afghanistan and other known locations – or within the nation by other means.
Stage 5Year passes. Terrorists are prepared. Purchased art is ready to be sold.
Stage 6Terrorists arrive to a major US city through work, tourism, student and immigration visas (or as travelling citizens).
Stage 7Art is submitted for sale at same auction houses. Reason for liquidation given by seller’s representative – owner has financial trouble and needs funding.
Stage 8Three to six month later auctions are held – art is sold under value. From original $5 million US invested, after import taxes and shipping $3 million US is recovered. However this $3 million is in the United States, legally justified and tax free. No red flags go up. Funding is established.
Stage 9Funding of and preparation for terrorist act on U.S. soil begins. Year passes.
Stage 10Unless other intelligence agencies (FBI, CIA, INTERPOL …) prevent this from happening – this hypothetical terrorist act will be executed.

The entire scenario above can be prevented by enforcing regulatory measures focusing on transparency and accountability at points of purchase and sale. Truthfully, a complete revamp of the entire art market is necessary by setting new laws, regulations, systems and departments. These actions will not only prevent terrorism from occurring, but create new revenue streams and more jobs for citizens in North America, Europe, or in any other locations reforms occur.

Sure. Auction houses and galleries are one weak link in the chain, but are not the only problem part of the equation. They do not even come close to private art buyers and sellers. Why? The vast majority of reputable auction houses and galleries will not pay someone in cash. However, cash is king in the world of private collectors. Everyone wants it, and most demand it, because they evade taxation and generate more profits. Most collectors, particularly the wealthy ones, are very secretive by nature, so they request complete privacy, anonymity, and for the sale to be untraceable. Just another day in the art world. Business as usual.

Years ago, I have been part of art transactions where we paid cold hard cash of more than $200,000 US. We have stopped this practice now and advocate for transparency in the art world. Although, the cash-for-art culture is common. In fact, between collectors, when the request for cold hard cash arises, the transaction is done with a pleasant smile. This is standard practice, even in today’s modern digital world.

Plenty of people would argue and say private art buyers need a high degree of privacy and security. Why? The art world is a very dangerous place with dangerous people. We absolutely agree with this point. There are bound to be terrorists, whose only goal is to exploit the fear of buyers, sellers, and owners for their personal gain.

In Conclusion

Almost every object of high value available to the general public requires government documentation and registration. Planes, cars, yachts, houses are some of the most expensive investments people make. One single piece of artwork, antique, or collectible can be more valuable than all of those items put together with no paperwork, registration, or accountability.

Expensive art, antiques, and collectibles should undergo the same government scrutiny as an automobile. Each item should require proper registration, documentation, appraisal, and identity management from one government department. Most importantly, the government department must have the capacity to oversee every aspect of movable cultural property from the instance these items come into existence, marketplace appearances, and sales history from importation to transfers of ownership. New national and international art databases must come into existence. Proactive collaborations with other nations is a must. When expensive art (items valued over $100,000 USD) are treated as motor vehicles by a specific government department, 90 percent of the work is taken care of, and the art market as a whole would be much safer for everyone involved.

The technologies, tools, and methods to eliminate terrorism in the art market exist. There are only needs to be a few systems created from scratch. Most technologies and systems have implemented measures in place, independent of each other by private government organizations—some have been in existence for over a decade. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Knowledge, Educational Materials, Classification Systemsexist ✔
Sophisticated Technology, Databases and Operating Systemsexist ✔
Art Tracking Technologyexist ✔
Object Recognition Technologyexist ✔
Universal Auditable & Transparent Appraisal Technologyexist ✔
Identity Management Technologyexist ✔
Authenticity Management Technologyexist ✔
Technical Supportexist ✔
Tools, Materials & Hardwareexist ✔
Trained Professionals and Labor Forceexist ✔

Introducing New Systems

What must happen is putting each one of these systems together in a single unified body. There is only one way this is possible: government officials, law enforcement agencies, border protection services, and cultural departments take the necessary actions. Time is ticking, and the art market requires regulation. Transparency is a must with market-specific rules for a safer, more honest art world for all.

Plus, better training is necessary for law enforcement authorities and border protection officials to understand the intricacies of protecting cultural property. An honest and profitable art market demands auctions, dealers, owners, and galleries collaborate and make a concerted effort towards communicating effectively between themselves and government bodies. Arts, antiques, and collectibles are valuable, unique, and highly liquid commodities, which need as much legal scrutiny as cash, stocks, or gold bullion, and is the only line of defense with an effective solution to prevent the financing of terrorism through art, antiques, and collectibles. Art is here to develop and shape culture—not destroy it.

The 3 Pillars

Now, here is a guide the government and art market can use to begin eliminating terrorism with the ”Three Pillars” concept:

Pillar 1Pillar 2Pillar 3
Create one Unified Legal Dictionary & Terminology book all authorities use. Every art market regulator (legislative branches, organizations, experts, border service agencies, ministries of culture, and police) possesses and uses the same terminologies laws, regulations, and rules. This dictionary helps everyone understand one another with no communication issues.Develop a National (or International) Movable Cultural Property Database with coding technology and art classification in mind. Since art, antiques, and collectibles are diverse, exceeding 180 thematic groups and thousands of subdivisions—a unified national and international database with coding capabilities and classification embedded together for regulation and security.Math-centric, Straightforward, and Measurable Appraisal Technology capable of calculating a valuation of any art, antique, or collectible. Of course, regarding factual information about the item. These appraisals must abide by international valuation standards and be understood and verified by an auditor or trained government official. This pillar is essential because, without it, art crime will still exist.

Final Thoughts

Truthfully, these three pillars only begin scratching the surface of what necessary tools, systems, and technologies the international art market requires. Let us forget about all of the boring technical details because the Tamoikin Art Fund has created, tested, and perfected all essential methods, systems, and technologies mentioned in this article. Also, there are more innovative systems on the way. We are working tirelessly to release them to the public. I can state with complete confidence and full responsibility—any national or international art market can use these three pillars right now and effectively regulate the marketplace.

We understand how to utilize the tools and possess the capabilities to make the global art trade safe for all participants. Free of virtually all major crimes. When government and law enforcement agencies begin using the systems we have in place, terrorists and criminals will not use art, antiques, and collectibles to fund their global operations because they will not have accessibility to do so. Not only will the public benefit from being much safer, but an international security loophole closes for good.

To eliminate any fearmongering of financial remuneration, I state we offer these services for free to any government who takes an interest in wanting to make their public a safer place to conduct business in the art world.


In light of the above said, I propose the following challenge to any law enforcement agency. With the permission and supervision of the authorities, my team and I are willing to demonstrate how easy it is to move large amounts of funds (up to $5 million dollars and more, if necessary), from one country to another, via movable cultural property (art, antiques, collectibles) while completely bypassing all law enforcement, border protection, and legal agencies as well as safeguards intended to stop (or at the very least detect) this type of financial transaction.

In 2012 our team was contracted by Ukrainian police to analyze and appraise 2500 artefacts, 13kg of which were rare gold antiques. All items were part of a national criminal case #18-458/1. We completed the job, submitting 24 volumes of reports to the Central Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. Recently we learned that all records of this investigation were deleted, and many of these items mysteriously appeared in Central Europe. In accordance with Ukrainian laws, such artefacts are considered as national treasure and cannot be exported. One of these items was a gold helmet from the era of Alexander the Great, worth over $30 Million US. In 2012 we held it in our hands in Ukraine. In 2015 it was offered to us by a 3rd party from the EU…


In 2009 I sent a letter to the Government of Canada (Ministry of Culture & Heritage), in which I clearly stated my concerns that art could be used to fund terrorism. Please read their reply below.

In 2011, I sent this report to offices of RCMP, FBI, CIA and INTERPOL. In 2012 it was presented, via my associates, to law enforcement officials from Germany, Luxemburg, Lithuanian, Japan, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

In 2013 I sent it directly to the President and General Secretary of the International Police Association (Canada).

To date there has been no real response to this threat…

The public must be aware of this security threat and demand action from their government officials. If this issue is not dealt with soon, we are not only permitting this unnecessary risk but are actually putting people’s lives in danger!


‘The Terrorist in the Art Gallery’

But it’s getting worse: in a modern-day version of the old ‘molasses to rum to slaves’ triangle trade of pious New England ship captains, the cozy cabal of academics, dealers, and collectors who turn a blind eye to the illicit side of the trade is in effect supporting the terrorists killing our troops in Iraq.

‘Terrorists raise cash by selling antiquities’ 2006

Terrorist organizations may be financing their deadly activities partly by dealing in the illicit trade of art and antiquities which come out of the Middle East and wind up in the homes of collectors who pay top dollar for ancient artifacts, experts have told GSN.


‘Terrorist Financing Risks and the Illegal Trade in Cultural Property’ 2013

There is sufficient anecdotal evidence to conclude that the illegal trade in cultural property may constitute a source of funding for terrorist networks … .

The report [National Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Risk Assessment] also identifies art and antique dealers and auction houses as businesses ‘that may be useful [to include] in building a list of the ML/TF vulnerabilities that can be exploited in regulated entities…’ .

‘Hillary Clinton announces program aimed at stamping out elephant poaching, ivory trade’ 2013

Clinton drew a direct link between terrorism and elephant poaching, citing growing evidence that terrorist groups in Africa are funding their activities in part by trafficking ivory. She said that includes al-Shabab, the group responsible for the recent attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi.

‘An Allied Effort to Save History’ 2014

Professor of Law, Georgetown University Mark Vlasic, former head of the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, noted: ‘Moreover after the post-9/11 crackdowns on terrorist financing, law enforcement has reported a marked increase in antiquities and other artworks being used to launder money (in fact, one agent told us that money laundering cases make up the bulk of their art investigations, not repatriations)’.

‘Money Laundering and the Trade in Cultural Property: Taking a Fresh Look at Federal AML/CTFs’ 2014

But anti-money laundering as well as counter-terrorism financing laws (AML/CTF) are often limited when it comes to the trade in cultural property. That is because the cultural property markets in art, antiquities, fossils, etc., are not explicitly covered under AML/CTFs … .

With respect to the art market, a 2012 Basel Institute on Governance report titled Basel Art Trade Guidelines, observes: In comparison with other trade sectors, the art market faces a higher risk of exposure to dubious trade practices. This is due to the volume of illegal or legally questionable transactions, which are noticeably higher in this sector than in other globally active markets. Far more serious than shady dealings in a legal grey area, the sector’s shadow economy encompasses issues ranging from looted art, professional counterfeiting and fake certificates to the use of art sales for the purpose of money laundering … .

Relics for rifles: Syrian rebels trade antique treasures for weapons (VIDEO) 2014

Not only is Syria’s future at stake as the civil war rages on, but now also its past. The black market flourishing in the conflict now sees relics – some as ancient as 1,200 years – traded by rebels for AK-47s … .

Mustafa says he looted Syria’s precious antiquities, some of which are several thousand years old, to trade them for money. He plans to use it to buy weapons and armoury to fight Syrian government forces … .

The rebel was planning to make nearly $3,000 – $6,000 out of the relics – enough to return to Syria with a couple of Kalashnikovs, or even a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), an anti-tank weapon system … .

‘I receive every day four of five people from the Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra Front to sell the relics to help the Free Syrian Army’, Abu Ghsein told RT.

His collection is now full of unique objects: gold, silver, bronze coins, stone – some of them dating back to the era of Phoenicia, an ancient Semitic civilization that lived 1,200-800 BC … .

Mooting the looting – Ft. George Richards, Senior Fellow at Iraq Heritage 2014

The trafficking of ancient artefacts looted from Iraq and Syria earns ISIS millions of dollars every month. And with such a significant economic incentive, the devastation of the world’s cultural heritage has become ubiquitous. Is looting the best hope for preserving antiquities in times of conflict, and how effective are international regulations at curbing the booming black markets? Oksana is joined by George Richards, ethnographer and Senior Fellow at Iraq Heritage, to sift through these issues.

This article was originally published in 2011 on Google Knol and republished in 2015 on:


1. The Financing of the 9/11 Plot – UNT Libraries / US Government Documents Dept:


















Additional references:

Los Angeles Times: Violating $10,000 Cash Limit Not a Crime, January 12, 1994| DAVID G. SAVAGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rethinking Money Laundering & Financing of Terrorism in International Law – ISNB 9789004207141 – Roberto Durrieu, Estudio Durrieu Abogado

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft Paperback, Simon Houpt, 2006, 192 pages, Black Walnut/Madison Press, 978-1897330449

Border agency sees sharp rise in currency seizures – METRO NEWS | Canada | Monday, May 11, 2015

The World Art News (WAN) is not liable for the content of this publication. All statements and views expressed herein are only an opinion. Act at your own risk. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission. © The World Art News

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