Georgina Adam points out a fact that probably should be recognized more. For all the talk of and fear about the art market being used to launder money, there are only two instances of works having been seized as part of plans to secretly move money from one country to another. For a $60bn-a-year industry, two cases involving less than $25m in value suggests either the government has a very hard time detecting the use of art to launder money—or—it is really exceedingly rare:
Although there is frequent talk about the use of art for laundering money, actual verifiable cases are rare. One is that of an $8m Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, which was seized in New York in 2013 as part of the investigation into the case of Brazilian banker Edemar Cid Ferreira. He is currently serving a 21-year sentence for fraud. The Basquiat was shipped to the US as an attempt to transfer assets and so launder money: its shipping documents put its value at just $100!
Now another case is unravelling, that of Philip Rivkin, a Texan biodiesel producer, who sold energy credits to big companies and with the proceeds bought a collection of photography worth over $15m. However, according to the US Attorney’s office, Rivkin’s company Green Diesel wasn’t actually producing any biodiesel at all, but merely selling certificates; the losses to hoodwinked clients was some $78m. Rivkin fled to Guatemala but was subsequently arrested in Houston and in June pleaded guilty to fraud. His photography collection, which he had tried to ship to Spain, was seized by the US and is now coming up at auction at Christie’s on February 17 and 18.
The Art Market: All about agencies (FT.com)