US Treasury raises alarm over money laundering in art

A visitor takes a photo in front of a video installation "Glows in the Night" by Chinese contemporary artist Yang Yongliang, which will be converted into NFTs and auctioned online at Sotheby's, at the Digital Art Fair, in Hong Kong.

A visitor takes a photo in front of a video installation "Glows in the Night" by Chinese contemporary artist Yang Yongliang, which will be converted into NFTs and auctioned online at Sotheby's, at the Digital Art Fair, in Hong Kong. (Tyrone Siu, Reuters)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday issued a set of recommendations to combat illicit finance in the high-value art market and warned that the emerging digital art market, such as non-fungible tokens, may present new risks.

In a study published on Friday, the Treasury found that there is some evidence of money laundering risk in the high-value art market, but limited evidence of terrorist financing risk, the Treasury said in a statement.

It said that those most vulnerable in the market are businesses offering financial services that are not subject to anti-money laundering or countering terrorism financing obligations, warning that asset-based lending "can be used to disguise the original source of funds and provide liquidity to criminals."

A senior Treasury official told reporters next steps include engaging stakeholders such as those in Congress or in the industry to get their feedback, adding that the Treasury hopes the study will encourage industries to take additional steps to make it harder to launder illicit proceeds through the art market. The Treasury will give further thought as to whether additional regulatory steps are needed in this market, the official said.

The study also said that depending on the structure and market incentives, the digital art market, such as NFTs, may present new risks, as the characteristics of digital art make it vulnerable to money laundering.

NFTs are a form of crypto asset which exploded in popularity last year. All kinds of digital objects — from art to videos and even tweets — can be bought and sold as NFTs, which use unique digital signatures to ensure they are one-of-a-kind.

The study recommended the consideration of several options to address the risks, including updating training for law and customs enforcement, enhancing private sector information-sharing and applying anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing requirements to certain participants in the art market.

But it said that the multi-billion-dollar industry, compared to other sectors that pose terrorist financing and money laundering risk, should not be an immediate focus for the imposition of requirements to combat the illicit financing.

Most art market participants are currently not subject to anti-money laundering or counter terrorism financing requirements, though the study said that several qualities inherent to art and the high-value market make it attractive for money laundering.

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Business & TechU.S.
Daphne Psaledakis

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