Last month, the U.S. State Department and U.S. The Treasury Department sanctioned Vassil Bojkov, a well-known oligarch and art collector who is nicknamed The Skull, along with two “controversial businessmen.” In addition to Bojkov, Delyan Peevski, a former Member of the Bulgarian Parliament, and IIko Zhelyazkov, a former Deputy Head of the Bulgarian State Agency, are among those sanctioned by the US Government. All together, the three are charged with bribery, misuse of public funds as well as tax fraud.
Such corruption schemes emphasize how widespread these actions are, and how frequently they overlap with other unlawful activities. The U.S. State Department advises all governments to put in place effective anti-money laundering measures to combat corruption, as this is critical in safeguarding the international financial system from corruption's misuse.
The sanctions imposed on the three prominent Bulgarians are due to their “extensive roles in corruption” and signals the United States’ commitment to tackling corruption. Additionally, the action demonstrates an increasing focus of governments around the world in the art world and the wealth associated with those that patronize it. For instance, just this week, new guidance issued by the United Kingdom’s HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) “emphasises the increased focus of law enforcement agencies to disrupt the use of the art market as a vehicle for money laundering.”
The announcement of this particular designation builds on the push toward stronger art industry regulation that has already begun in the United States, and which through the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 finally applied BSA regulations to the art and antiquities world. As a result, regulation and enforcement actions are ever-increasing; therefore, it is a wake-up call to all that it is imperative to pay attention to and understand the importance of regulation in new markets and for the gatekeepers to remain vigilant towards the relatively murky art market and its associated transactions.