The National Defense Authorization Act, which passed on Friday when Congress overrode President Trump’s veto, includes a tightening of banking regulations and anti-money laundering laws for the antiquities market.
The bill is removing antiquities dealers’ exemption from what are standard anti-money laundering laws and regulations under the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act.
“We believe this type of legislation is long overdue,” John Byrne, a lawyer with 30 years of experience in anti-money-laundering rules, told the New York Times. “This is an area where clearly organized crime, terrorists, and oligarchs have used cultural artifacts to move illicit funds.”
A bipartisan Congressional report (“The Art Industry and U.S. Policies that Undermine Sanctions,” released in July 2020,) reveals for example how Russian oligarchs evaded sanctions and laundered $18 million through leading American auction houses and dealers.
This report, which sounded the alarm on the opacity of the market, states that the $28.3 billion American art market remains “the largest legal, unregulated market in the United States.”
“By applying anti-money laundering protections to antiquities dealers, Congress has taken an important first step to fight back, but this is just a first step,” said Deborah Lehr, Chair and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, in a statement. “There is much more the U.S. government can–and should–do in partnership with the private sector to combat criminal misuse of the art market.”
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