Museums, collectors, and value
manipulation: tax fraud through
donation of antiquities
Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow,
Purpose – This paper aims to discuss the key aspects of the international trade in antiquities and the
practice of philanthropic donation of objects to museums that allow for certain types of tax deduction
manipulation, using a case of tax deduction manipulation from Australia and a case of tax fraud from
the United States as examples.
Design/methodology/approach – Two thoroughly researched case studies are presented which
illustrate the particular features of current and past antiquities donation incentivisation schemes which
leave them open to manipulation and fraud.
Findings – The valuation of antiquities is subjective and problematic, and the operations of both the
antiquities market and the museums sector are traditionally opaque. Because of this, tax incentivisation
of antiquities donations is susceptible to fraud.
Originality/value – This paper presents the mechanisms of the antiquities market and museum
world to an audience that is not familiar with it. It then clearly demonstrates how the traditional
practices of this world can be manipulated for the purposes of tax fraud. Two useful case studies are
Keywords Fraud, Donations, Appraisal, Antiquities, Museums, Tax deductions
Paper type Case study
Private antiquities collectors and the museums that display antiquities enjoy a mutually
benecial relationship based on philanthropic donation. Collectors who donate objects
to museums gain a number of social accolades, and museums improve and supplement
their collections. As the improvement of museum collections and, thus, public access to
antiquities has been deemed by most governments to be a public good, a variety of tax
incentives have been introduced to inspire donations. These incentives are usually
based on the assessed value of the object being donated. However, the valuation of
antiquities is subjective and problematic, and the operations of both the antiquities
market and the museums sector are traditionally opaque. Because of this, tax
incentivisation of antiquities donations is susceptible to fraud.
In this paper, I will discuss the key aspects of the international trade in antiquities
and the practice of philanthropic donation of object to museums that allow for certain
The author has received funding for this research from the European Research Council under the
European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant agreement n°
283873 GTICO, the Leverhulme Trust and the Fulbright Program.
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Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.23 No. 1, 2016
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