28 December, 2008

Art Auction houses, your partners in crime?

I still remember the news in October 2007, when Dubai Police arrested 48 persons which were all part of a huge money laundering ring.
In about 16 months they successfully laundered 18 billion AED. Yes..billion, not million. Well, the first question really is, how can one bring such amounts of cash in the country - but that's another issue.

Now ask yourself this: if you were one of them and you had to launder just the petty cash of 2 billion AED this year - where would you start?
There are not many business sectors where you can make a purchase in CASH and no questions asked. Until a few years ago you could pay your real estate purchase in cash (yes the full amount) - but this has been stopped. How about gold and diamonds? Well, I guess you could spend a few hundred thousands but it would be hard to spend lets say 30 million in a day at the Gold Souq without anybody becoming suspicious of you. Sure, there are also other places to put dirty money. But one of the best places to put it in Dubai are the auction houses for art.

For one thing, they take CASH. You can check out the companies and find out for yourself.
It's also totally anonymous, you can place your bid even on the phone.

Did you ever ask yourself how a painting or a photo of a totally unknown person could sell for 5 Million U$ or more at an auction? What's up with their record-breaking sale prices?
Laundering through Art is also very convenient. Once you buy the piece, keep it in a safe somewhere in a bank and sell it back and forward to your "money laundering buddies". A sells to B for 5 million. Then B sells back to A for 10 million - and so on, you get the "picture". Meanwhile, the object never changes hands physically.
Art Auctions in the UAE sold items worth several hundred Million U$ this year. That is huge, considering that there was no market for such items just over 5 years ago.

Who were the buyers?
Well, I guess you can answer this question now. As you might be aware the UAE has an Anti-Money-Laundering-Committee. I'm not sure where they are, but I think they should attend some auctions in the UAE.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

speculators also pushed up the prices at the first auctions. Partly to make this seem an extrmely lucrative bet for the auction houses but no doubt a few were just trying to max out the Persil potential!

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