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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

OFAC warns of sanctions risks for high-value artwork

Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Russia Of Interest to Non-US Persons

Financial Crimes

On October 30, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an art advisory highlighting characteristics and vulnerabilities in the high-value artwork market that pose sanctions risks. The advisory advises “art galleries, museums, private art collectors, auction companies, agents, brokers, and other participants in the art market” of the importance of maintaining risk-based compliance programs to mitigate exposure to sanctions-related violations. The advisory further emphasizes that the “Berman Amendment” to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act “does not categorically exempt all dealings in artwork from OFAC regulation and enforcement.” According to OFAC, shell companies and intermediaries are often used to remit and receive payments for high-value artwork. The anonymity that these channels provide, OFAC cautions, allows blocked and other illicit persons to cloak their true identities and helps conceal prohibited conduct from law enforcement and regulators.

The report references previously issued OFAC guidance and discusses a report issued by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in July (covered by InfoBytes here), which details findings from a two-year investigation related to how Russian oligarchs appear to have used the art industry to evade U.S. sanctions. According to the report, while the art industry is largely unregulated, and, unlike financial institutions, is not subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and is not required to maintain anti-money laundering (AML) and anti-terrorism financing controls, sanctions imposed by OFAC do apply to the industry, and U.S. persons are not permitted to conduct business with sanctioned individuals or entities.

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