Alistair Sooke is promoting his BBC Documentary on The World’s Most Expensive Stolen Pictures, a follow up to his previous documentary on The World’s Most Expensive Pictures. Unfortunately, he uses the Telegraph to advance a theory that cannot cover the bulk of art crimes—which are known to be crimes of convenience—and instead proffers a theory that was put forward by Ulrich Boser in his 2009 book about the Gardner theft that the works are being used as markers in high-value criminal transactions:
According to Art Theft (2011), by the director of the National Portrait Gallery Sandy Nairne, the international market for stolen art and antiquities is worth as much as $5 billion annually: “This places it among the top international crimes, after drugs, money-laundering and the sale of illegal weapons.” […]
Thus, Vermeer’s The Concert, which is often said to be worth up to $300 million, could be a kind of criminal gaming chip, with a felonious value of up to $30 million. It could then be used as collateral, helping to finance drug deals, gun-running, tobacco trafficking, and other illicit activities.
There are obvious benefits to controlling even a share in a single object worth so much money: “Since the introduction of money-laundering regulations, it has become unsafe for criminals to pay for their operations in cash,” says Dick Ellis, who set up the Art and Antiques Squad at New Scotland Yard. “With its black-market value, stolen art can easily be carried across international borders.
“It has an international value, without the hassle of currency conversion, and may even be accepted as a trophy payment by senior cartel members.”