• Van Weyenbergh Fine Art

Prosecutor De Raho explains how artworks are used for tax evasion

Criminal organizations are known for their trafficking in arms or drugs. Have they now set their sights on works of art? The mafia has perfected in recent years their methods for investing in the art market. Works of art can be both a means of recycling dirty money, but also an instrument for transferring resources from one mafia group to another. The object thus becomes, in reality, a virtual currency, a cryptocurrency. Moving a canvas or an object is more discreet than a mountain of money. Art is also an investment that pays and gains value over time. It is an excellent refuge that is easier to hide than a building. The competence and experience of the Italian judiciary in the fight against the various mafias place our country at the forefront in bringing to light the troubling links between the art market and criminal organizations. The art market has experienced solid growth worldwide in recent years. What role did mafia investments play in it? It is difficult to assess because, for a long time, this global phenomenon has been underestimated. We have noticed in Italy the tremendous expan sion of the art market partly due to decades of investment by "mafia bosses". Gioacchino Campolo nicknamed the "king of the videopoker", a member of the Calabrian mafia, was recently arrested. Among the 300 million euros of property seized from him, a third consisted of paintings by Dalí, Morandi, Picasso and De Chirico. The same is true for Massimo Carminati, the main defendant in the "Mafia Capitale" investigation, who owned nearly a hundred paintings, including Guttuso, Pollock, and Warhol. Gianfranco Becchina, related to Cosa Nostra, was the owner of an art gallery in Switzerland and sold objects to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Not to mention the two paintings by Vincent van Gogh stolen in 2002 that were found at the home of a Camorra godfather. Having works of art at home is a guarantee of success and intimidates anyone who visits you, without forgetting the corruption tool that they can constitute. This does not only concern the Italian art market. No, the art market is global, and the traffic in works of art has become the third-largest in the world after that of drugs and weapons, generating by some estimates a turnover of around 10 billion euros. Since the early 1970s, hundreds of thousands of objects have been unearthed from Italian soil and sold illegally. The phenomenon took on a new dimension in the past decade when Daesh terrorists sold works of art from territories that had come under their control. What role do tax havens play in this illegal trafficking? The free ports are fundamental. The object is deposited there until it passes from ownership to the final purchaser. In the meantime, it has passed from hand to hand without having been moved once. The different buyers only exchange documents satisfying, with the minimum risk, tax evasion, and recycling of dirty money. No one knows precisely how many works are kept in these free ports. Is it possible that collectors prefer to be content with owning art objects without ever exhibiting or admiring them? Legislators must focus their attention on these issues. Is there currently no legislation to facilitate your investigations? We do not have adequate tools to investigate free ports effectively. The European Commission has nevertheless recently put in place strict rules through the fourth and especially the fifth anti-money laundering directive. The supervisory role of the European Banking Authority has been strengthened. It is an essential step toward more transparency. Sellers, antique dealers, auction houses, gallery owners, and all those who revolve around the art world may be involved in money laundering cases. Until last year, they were exempt from all forms of control. From now on, they are required to conform their activities to more rigorous verifications concerning their clientele. They must adopt the same measures that are asked of bankers, accountants, notaries, or lawyers. What happens then? The file is sent to the financial information unit of the Bank of Italy in charge of suspicious transactions. If the doubt is verified, the file is sent to us encrypted to maintain the utmost confidentiality. If it turns out that one of the people involved has links to the mafia or terrorism, then we add it to our database. It is a kind of large centrifuge which immediately signals us if it has ever dealt with our services. We have millions of information and reports. This database has been active since 1992 and contains all the proceedings launched against the Mafia over the past three decades. After having crossed the information, we transmit the file to the Direzione Investigativa Antimafia and to the financial police.

Le Journal des arts


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