The South China Morning Post recaps what is already a well-known feature of the Chinese art market, that it is a convenient venue for offering bribes because Chinese auction houses take no responsibility for a work’s authenticity. However, it would be a step forward if we could begin to quantify how much of the Chinese art market is a conduit for illegal activity and how much is legitimate sales:
“The price of Chinese art is really abnormal,” Jiang Yinfeng, a painter and art critic told the Worker’s Daily. “Art has become the best tool for money laundering and corruption.”
China’s gift-giving culture drives up prices. Demand is driven by businessmen buying artefacts as presents for officials. Fake or genuine, an artwork presents an opportunity to ‘wash’ a bribe, WIC explains. A businessman gives a painting to an official, whose relative auctions it off. The businessman buys it back at an inflated price and the official pockets the cash. This leaves less evidence linking favour to bribe than handing over suitcases of cash. More sophisticated schemes exist but this is the general idea.
It goes without saying that a clampdown on dodgy art deals will hit all players in the business, but no one really knows how much is real.
China art auctions – a great money laundry (South China Morning Post)