Let’s get back to the real estate pilot program that lies at the heart of the Times’s confusion. That federal program, which may or may not be continued, relies upon mortgage title insurance companies to report to authorities the ultimate beneficial owner of any vehicle used to buy or sell very valuable real estate. It does not require the seller to reveal the beneficial owner to the buyer or vice versa.
The anonymity of buyers is also a huge advantage for criminals. Who hasn’t seen the images of an art auction for a famous painting at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, where brokers are on the phone with mysterious clients? Art market operators generally refuse to disclose the identities of their clients under the guise of “protecting the integrity of the transactions.”
The Art Business should examine the client’s background and purpose behind the contemplated transaction. For example, are the artworks being sold by the client consistent with what is known about the client’s collection? Is the level at which the client is selling or buying consistent with their past transactions and what is known about their professional activities and personal wealth? If not, the Art Business may want to ask the client for further information.
The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life. As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws. One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” — catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws. Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.