CINOA, IADAA and others call for major review and propose five-point plan for future

Trade and cultural heritage groups including global trade federation CINOA and international antiquities association IADAA have called for a major international review of policy and legislation as it applies to the art market.

The call comes in a letter after the US Treasury review of anti-money laundering proposals found the art market to be low risk, with Congress turning its attention to shell companies and the real estate industry instead for the moment.

CINOA secretary general Erika Bochereau and IADAA chairman Vincent Geerling pointed out that all of the numerous recent studies researching possible links between the art market, money laundering and terrorism financing found no justification for clamping down on the market on this basis.

They argued that the lack of hard evidence produced by any of the reports meant that authorities should stop targeting “dealers, collectors and auction houses with wave after wave of damaging and unjust legislation.” Policy making is “being driven by assumptions and false claims,” they argued in their open letter.

Why false claims and bogus data abound

It is thought that one of the reasons so much misinformation is so widely spread is the interests of drawing attention to the pet issues of international NGOs, law enforcement and others all vying for attention and funding as they push their agendas.

The trade and cultural heritage groups singled out UNESCO’s claim that the annual value of trade in illicit cultural goods is $10 billion, a claim that is demonstrably false and not supported by the source that UNESCO gave for it. Despite being informed of this in November 2020, and despite numerous public clarifications on this point by the trade, UNESCO continues to promote the figure and it is still quoted in the media.

The trade and cultural heritage groups have now set out a five-point plan for better policy, listed in the Art Newspaper as follows:

  1. “Policy makers, including governments, when discussing the development of and drafting any policy or legislation which impacts cultural property and the art market, should ensure that recognised representatives from the relevant sector of the art market are co-opted on to any relevant panel or consulting body.
  2. Regulatory review boards or panels assessing the impact of government proposals should focus on how far they have actively addressed concerns and suggestions raised by recognised market representatives, while all proposals should be tested against clear standards of evidence and proportionality.
  3. A designated contact person at the decision-making level of government should be named, whose role is to follow any on-going laws or regulations affecting the art and antiques market, and they should act as a sector contact, with whom the trade can open a dialogue to ensure that the conservation of art or cultural heritage objects is not being unintentionally demoted or ignored.
  4. All relevant active and pending cultural property legislation should be reviewed to take account of the facts and data currently available, particularly if those facts are at odds with the assumptions on which legislation was predicated.
  5. Legislators, particularly in the EU, should commission an independent review to analyse the way in which significant public resources, supposedly dedicated to combating illicit trade in cultural goods, have been wasted as a result of relying on misinformation. Clear guidance should be produced to prevent legislation affecting the art market from misdirecting resources in the future.”

As well as CINOA, signatories of the letter include: the ACPCP (American Council for the Preservation of Cultural Property), the ATADA (Authentic Tribal Art Dealers’ Association), the Committee for Cultural Policy (Cultural policy think tank and information source), Drouot Patrimoine auction house, the EFA (European Federation of Auctioneers), the Global Heritage Alliance advocacy group and the IADAA (International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art).


CINOA, the global trade federation for dealers in the international art market, with 5,000-plus members, has published a wide-ranging new report that exposes the causes and sources of bogus information used to damage the market.

From the deliberate dissemination of false evidence, as seen in the October 2020 UNESCO advertising campaign, The Real price of art, to the misreporting of facts, the report shows how many bodies of international standing, from NGOs to law enforcement and even governments, perpetuate falsehoods about the art and antiques market.
It also demonstrates how the bogus evidence – as well as its constant reinforcement via the media and other sources – has directly influenced policy, including new laws that damage the market.

One of the most shocking aspects of all this has been the clear failure of highly influential bodies such as the European Commission and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime to properly check the sources of the information that they publish; the repercussions for legitimate interests have echoed down the years.

Another shameful feature is just how much of the false information now being relied on can be traced back to media articles and other reports that are decades old and either do not carry the information claimed at all or whose evidence has been completely misreported as it has been filtered through other sources over time.
Frequently cited claims that prove to have no foundation in fact whatsoever include:

  • Trafficking in cultural property is third only to that in drugs and weapons
  • 80-90% of sales of antiquities involve goods with illicit origins
  • Cultural property trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry

However, bearing in mind the time, resources and legislation already dedicated to this subject in recent years, perhaps the most startling fact CINOA publishes is that it cannot find a single instance anywhere in the world of an arrest or seizure of artworks leading to confirmation that the items in question have been used to fund terrorism. Considering how keen the authorities are to demonstrate the link between the art market and terrorist financing, it is hard to believe that they would not engage in a major media campaign to publicise such a case if it ever arose.

Quite apart from the unwarranted damage this lack of probity has inflicted on the innocent, it has also led to a wider failure of policy, with real problems that need dealing with under international conventions and other agreements being ignored in favour of the pursuit of propaganda-fuelled ideology. While the report focuses on the repercussions for the art market, the institutional failures resulting from this misguided policy have claimed other victims, notably vulnerable cultural heritage sites and the vulnerable people living near them, who should enjoy better support as they are asked to help in the protection of their heritage.

Much of this inappropriate policy development is funded by public money, yet acts against the public interest. Even when its failures are drawn to the attention of the authorities responsible, as those involving UNESCO and the European Commission have been, they ignore or dismiss them and carry on as before. It is hard to think of any other walk of life where such scandalous behaviour would go unpunished, let alone continue to be encouraged and even celebrated.

Unlike many of the bodies it takes to task, the report provides properly checked primary sources, including weblinks, for all the data it publishes, so that they can readily be verified independently.