Dealers have already been told to respond by filing more “suspicious activity reports” to the agency highlighting sales where there are concerns about the buyer or seller and the source or destination of the money involved.
But Graeme Biggar, the director general of the NCA’s national economic crime centre, said there has been an inadequate response and that an official “amber alert” has been sent to dealers in the capital and elsewhere in Britain.
“Art is used for money laundering, we see that in our investigations and we would expect art dealers to be looking a bit harder. We haven’t seen much of an uptick,” he said.
“The art market in the UK is $12.7 billion (£9.11 billion), it’s the second biggest in the world and is a relatively high risk area for money laundering because it is a market used to operating with anonymity, where they use third parties, and where the source of the funds is often not clear.
“It’s also high value which is perfect for criminals and typically very small so you can move an enormous amount of value from one country to another quite easily and without suspicion.”
Mr Biggar said another advantage for criminals was that art has a “subjective value” which meant “you can deliberately buy high and sell low or vice versa, which is a good way of being able to launder cash.”
He added: “It is also a final product of the laundering sometimes because the criminals want to have a nice bit of artwork, in the same way they want a nice house and car.”
Mr Biggar said he was also “sure HM Revenue and Customs will be looking a bit harder too at art dealers” to counter the risk of sales being used to avoid inheritance or capital gains tax.
The “amber alert” sent by the National Crime Agency to art dealers says that the money laundering risk applies to paintings, sculptures, tapestries, photographs and other works.
It adds that criminals can abuse “legitimate mechanisms for anonymity in order to shield their involvement and their source of funds during art transactions”.
The National Crime Agency document says that examples of suspected money laundering include the case of the London dealer Matthew Green.
It states that he has been indicted in the US on six counts of attempted money laundering and his London gallery has been declared insolvent.