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This bronze Chola statue was reportedly smuggled into the U.S & sold in 2006 with a false provenance.

A July 1, 2015 press release outlines the recovery of a Chola-period bronze statue, by U.S. law enforcement officials.   The press release mentions the 11-12th century Chola statue was stolen & smuggled into the U.S.  The statue was eventually sold with a false provenance to a collector of Asian antiquities.  A false provenance conceals the true chain of title of art or cultural heritage property.  Some therefore use a false provenance to hide their ownership of art or cultural heritage property.  These owners may also rely on third-parties to help hide art assets.

For example, during an asset search of a judgment debtor, a private investigator decided to investigate the judgment debtor’s lawyer.  The investigator suspected the lawyer was helping the judgment debtor hide assets.  The investigator then did “trash pulls” at the lawyer’s home.  During one of many trash pulls, the investigator discovered an envelope bearing the name of a climate-controlled art storage facility.  This discovery led to the interdiction of a valuable painting the judgment debtor hid at the storage facility with the help of the lawyer.

Furthermore, valuable artwork can be hidden by washing it in a money laundering circuit.  Two articles raising this issue are Dr. Doom Warns of Art-World Money Laundering in DavosChinese snap up fine art for use in laundering schemes.  Vaults at foreign banks & freeports are also sometimes used to conceal artwork/cultural heritage property.   Other common concealment methods are described in detail at the March 16, 2015 Asset Search Blog post regarding recovering art assets & cultural heritage property.  The post was written by Leila Aminedoleh, Esq. & covers these talking points:

I.   Forgeries, Illicit Imports & Smuggling
II.  Valuating Art In A Divorce
III. Art Transfers By Terrorists & Other Criminals
IV. Suing Over Art

Image: Courtesy of U.S. Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams