The White House flagged money laundering in the art industry on Monday as a point of corruption while allowing Hunter Biden to sell his artwork to anonymous buyers for as much as $500,000.
The first report of its kind named the United States Strategy on Countering Corruption is geared towards exploring the ways and means “government officials abuse public power for private gain.”
Though the White House’s report specifically focused on the art industry as a “market” where financial crimes occur, it did not mention the Biden family’s involvement with corruption, such as Hunter’s art selling scheme to investors while his father is president.
Hunter has reportedly sold multiple pieces of art for at least $75,000 this fall to anonymous buyers, and the New York Times reported first lady Jill Biden has allegedly displayed Hunter’s artwork in the White House.
The White House has defended Hunter’s scheme as consistent with “the highest ethical standards.” Nevertheless, the report flagged the following about the art industry’s criminal pliability:
The markets for art and antiquities—and the market participants who facilitate transactions—are especially vulnerable to a range of financial crimes. Built-in opacity, lack of stable and predictable pricing, and inherent cross-border transportability of goods sold, make the market optimal for illicit value transfer, sanctions evasion, and corruption.
The art industry’s corruption is vast. Art “can be hidden or smuggled,” the National Law Review wrote. “Transactions often are private, and prices can be subjective and manipulated — as well as extremely high”:
Once purchased, the art can disappear from view for years, even decades. A lot of the art bought at auctions goes to freeports – ultra-secure warehouses for the collections of millionaires and billionaires, ranging from Picassos and gold to vintage Ferraris and fine wine.
The freeports, which exist in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Singapore, offer a variety of tax advantages because the goods stored in them are technically in transit. The Economist magazine reported that the freeport near the Geneva airport alone is thought to hold $100 billion (U.S.) of art.
Once inside the freeport, the art can be sold privately and anonymously to other buyers. The art need never leave the warehouse after the private sale is completed.
The White House report also outlined tax crimes as “interconnected” acts of corruption with money laundering. “For example, a World Bank study of 25,000 firms in 57 countries found that firms that pay more bribes also evade more taxes,” the report stated.
Hunter is reportedly under investigation for tax and money laundering schemes, CNN first reported in 2020. The FBI is allegedly investigating whether Hunter and his associates violated “tax and money laundering laws in business dealings in foreign countries, principally China, according to two people briefed on the probe.”
The White House issued the report days before the Biden-Harris administration will host the virtual Summit for Democracy, which will focus on “challenges and opportunities facing democracies.” Those in attendance at the event will “include over 100 participants from governments, civil society and the private sector,” the Hill reported.
Follow Wendell Husebø on Twitter @WendellHusebø