The art of elegant bribery
THERE IS MORE THAN AESTHETICS AND INVESTMENT IN TODAY'S DEMAND FOR CHINESE ART. ART HAS BECOME AN “INVISIBLE CLOAK” THAT HELPS BUSINESSMEN NAVIGATE CHINESE CORRUPTION, WRITES ANTONY OU
There are at least three important reasons for people to “elegantly” bribe officials in exchange of contract deals, promotions and all sorts of advantages. First, comparing to other types of corruption, elegant bribery demonstrates the “taste” of both the bribers and bribees. Bribes such as stocks and apartments are good investments, but bribes of art works make them “look cool”. The bribed officials possess their very own private collections of certain famous painters or calligraphy works of ancient dynasties. The image of “private art collector” is a perfect symbol for one’s socio-economic status and, more importantly, vanity. Therefore, it turns out to be a norm that the bribers should know the “tastes” of their targeted bribees— what he/she likes— may it be Qi Baishi’s signature paintings of “prawns”, Xu Beihong’s (1895-1953) famous “galloping horses” in ink, or an ivory snuff bottle, carved with the 18 Buddhas at the mid-Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)?
Second, although the prices for some of the cultural treasures fluctuate over time, there are masterpieces and precious antiques that guarantee unreasonable profit. Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010), one of the most influential Chinese painters in the late 20th century, produces works that ensure skyrocketing prices increase, from approximately 12500 USD per square feet in 2003 to 62500 USD per square feet in 2010 (despite the fact that he has been repeatedly accused of plagiarizing Jackson Pollock). The nominal return of these “commodities” is way more promising than a well-furnished flat or the devaluating US fiat money.
Third, elegant bribery is much harder to trace and prosecute by the police than the other kinds of corruption, mainly because the corruption process of such kind is incredibly discreet. There are no receipts and records of transactions for any of these antiques. In addition, the procedures ensure that the bribing money is whitened. Moreover, there is an open secret that gives “elegant bribery” a competitive edge over other forms of bribery: the treasures do not have to be real. Consequently, the very nature of elegant bribery creates rooms for perfect excuses for the corrupted officials. Even if they get caught, they can either say: 1) they do not know that the paintings are real; 2) the art works are fake and they do not have any nominal values. In fact, in some cases, even the artwork owners lie by saying that the real paintings are fake in order to escape from legal punishment.
The First Scenario:
The corrupted official can sell a fake painting at any rigged gallery. After coordinating with the official, the briber will go to the designated gallery and buy it at the agreed price plus the commission of the gallery owner. All of the three parties know that the painting is fake, but eventually they are all benefited. This fake painting can be reused and it can go through another bribery circulation of other “elegant” buyers and sellers.
The Second Scenario:
The briber puts a real and expensive painting at the gallery. The gallery marks down the price as if it were a fake painting. The official buys it as if he has the greatest bargain on earth. Sooner or later, the official can resell it at the right place, at the right time, and at the right price.
The Third Scenario:
The briber visits the official and gives him/her a real or fake painting as a present. Three days later, a seemingly unrelated person knocks the door of the official and buys that particular painting at an unreasonably high price. This buyer is actually a trusted subordinate of the briber, and, by doing so, the whole process does not involve the gallery whose owner will certainly ask for a commission.
The Fourth Scenario:
There are rigged auction houses all over China and they become the most suitable places for elegant corruption. The briber, first of all, gets a fake painting either from a gallery or a fake painting factory. Then, s/he provides relevant document proof of scholars and experts to take care of the problem of authenticity. These scholars and experts are paid to confirm the authenticity of this fake painting. They falsify every historical detail, evidence of painting style and scientific verification of the materials used. The forged painting is then given to the official as a gift and is auctioned at a very high price. Eventually, there is always someone coming from nowhere who wins the bid. Again, the bidder is a trusted person of the briber. These auction houses get hush money before the whole corruption process is completed.
(Antony Ou is a research student at the University of Sheffield, the China Review editor of Political Reflection Magazine, and the China Representative of CESRAN)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 29 Jul 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 29 Jul 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 30 Jul 2011 00:00:00 IST
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