Will India learn from the West or succumb to the pressure? – The New Indian Express
For years, countries like India, Italy and Egypt have rallied the world and the UN to stop the rampant looting of their cultural treasures and get rid of the label “source nations”. The strong premise was that “history belongs to its geography” and that in 1970 the Statute of the United Nations provided a bit of a respite although “market nations” took their time to sign. The UN Statute has so far flattered to deceive, paralyzed by the opacity of the art market and the sinister cabal that wants it to remain so.
We have seen in previous columns how, thanks to a combination of clever subterfuge and strong pressure from some academics and academics, the art market defied any attempt to control trade. This means that nations, both at the origin and at the destination, don’t even recognize that they have a problem, let alone create effective artistic crime teams within their law enforcement agencies. This is again used by the collectors lobby to display dismal seizure figures, challenge crime statistics and thus actively block any decent attempt to bring much needed transparency to this gray trade. Thus, the art market, despite regular sales amounting to several billion, was the least studied, if not controlled, of any mature trade, so much so that there are no clear statistics on the volume, turnover or even buyer / seller name disclosure standards. .
In today’s market, KYC standards are the basis of any transaction in India, from getting a SIM card to registering any sale. But the art market cabal seems to have succeeded in convincing the Union Culture Ministry to water down an already toothless antiquity law to allow or promote “a free antiques market” in India. The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act 1972 allows the sale of registered antiques in India, but imposes certain controls.
In addition to the basic guidelines for registering any antiquity over 100 years old with ASI, the law prescribes standards for becoming authorized dealers, which include the mandatory maintenance of sales and purchases and inventory records. The collection lobby seems to have somehow convinced the ministry that this is draconian and is trying to get rid of a keeper (in this case, the ASI prescribed officer) who is conducting an investigation before registering an antique. and replace it with an online portal instead. . In addition, there would no longer be any obligation to obtain a license as an authorized dealer; on the contrary, everyone can “freely” trade in antiques!
What is surprising is that during the same period, Western countries – long criticized for turning a blind eye – have woken up and are putting in place tougher measures to regulate the art market. But more importantly, why are they doing it?
In figures, it is estimated that the EU (before Brexit) and the United States represent more than 56% of the world trade in art and antiques. In early January, the US Congress voted to apply banking regulations to the antiques market. The main reasons cited in the New York Times report are surprising: “Regulators have long feared that the secrecy of the antiques trade, where buyers and sellers are rarely identified, will make it an easy way to launder money. ” US regulators also want to extend this to the art market in general if its commissioned study finds similar links in the antiques market to “organized crime, terrorists, oligarchs using cultural artifacts to move illicit funds” .
The United States implemented it despite lobbying. For example, according to the NYT report, “Federal disclosures show Christie’s auction house paid lobbyists over $ 100,000 in the past two years to influence results.”
While the actual details are still a few months away, the intent is basically to put the onus on dealers and auction houses – mostly sellers – to do their due diligence, and build the capacity to spot the signals. alarm and report them to the police who can then see if they are indeed suspects and open a more in-depth investigation. The other significant compliance that was opposed tooth and nail by the art market cabal was the disclosure of buyer / seller details – a long-standing stronghold of the art world under certain clauses. strange customer confidentiality.
US regulators have cleverly used the argument that failure to comply with this rule would lead to the continued use of shell companies to conceal the identities of buyers and sellers, which this effectively means is the end of the best ( worse) art joke. market when antiques are regularly sold by auction houses with the mention of provenance “Private collection of a Swiss gentleman” (the sculpture in the photo for example).
What about the EU? In April 2019, the European Council adopted new rules after nearly three years of struggle. These will make it possible to fight effectively against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods – one of the main requirements being the need to obtain import licenses for the objects. The reasons which prompted the majority of EU members to adopt the regulation were the need to devise rules to “ensure effective protection against the illicit trade in cultural goods and against their loss or destruction” and for “the prevention of financing of terrorism and money laundering through the sale of looted cultural goods to buyers in the Union ”.
The new rules apply to the import of cultural goods from outside the EU, with a specific requirement: importers must provide proof that their products have been legally exported from the country of origin and this is not only while they can get the special import license into the EU. In addition, information on these imports will be stored in a centralized electronic database which will be available to all EU national authorities.
Unfortunately, as part of its post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, the UK has rejected new EU rules, in particular import licensing regulations imposed by the EU, although that they were designed to protect cultural heritage from illegal trafficking. This is not surprising since the UK is known as a major gateway for looted and smuggled art. Despite the famous Sotheby’s exhibition in the 1990s by journalist Peter Watson, the British art market cabal managed to pressure its government by claiming that the new regulations would “cause great damage” to the art market. art. Whether someone even has data on the size of this market and the kind of income generated by these UK tax sales are uncomfortable questions no one wants to ask.
It is time for India to wake up and stop giving in to lobbyists paid to put a price tag on its heritage under the guise of free trade. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and see for once how even the Western world has recognized the shadowy nature of the antique trade.
S Vijay Kumar
Co-founder, India Pride Project, and author of The Idol Thief
(India Pride Project’s #BringOurGodsHome initiative has helped bring back many
idols back in our country)