“The Chinese market is really big on money laundering. The good thing about art from that perspective is you can always say I bought it for $100 and now it’s worth $10 million. It’s very difficult to argue with that because of poor transparency of the art price.”
Skaterschikov, and others, say that art has surpassed real estate, stocks, gambling in Macau and overseas bank accounts as the method of choice for dodgy businessmen and corrupt officials to hide their ill-gotten gains.
In some cases the bids themselves are used to pass bribes, where buyers intentionally overpay for shoddy pieces in order to legally pay the seller.
In one high-profile incident last year, a Chinese businessman had a fake ancient jade burial suit made up. After getting a group of appraisers to verify its authenticity, and value it at a staggering $375 million, the businessman used the suit as collateral to secure a $100 million bank loan.
“The figures are huge because they fetch very high prices. There is a hidden process of laundering through buying and selling of counterfeit and real paintings and antiques in this region,” said Lo Shiu-Hing, and expert on transnational crime at the Hong Kong Institute of Education