President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, has now plunged into the world of international art. Apparently, Hunter's paintings might sell for as much as $500,000 to various anonymous aficionados, according to Hunter's new art dealer, Georges Bergès. It is the latest in a string of scams Hunter Biden (pictured) has undertaken. (Photo by DNCC via Getty Images)
They say the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder, but does that apply to corruption as well?
President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, has now plunged into the world of international art, with a New York gallery owner brokering art sales for the rare, emerging talent. Apparently, Hunter's paintings might sell for as much as $500,000 to various anonymous aficionados, according to Hunter's new art dealer, Georges Bergès.
It is the latest in a string of scams Hunter Biden has undertaken. First, it was his being named, with no expertise whatsoever in either Ukraine or the oil and gas business, to the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian oil and gas company under investigation for fraud. Then it was the deluxe payday in 2012 for his Rosemont-Seneca real estate investment partnership, which was bankrolled to the tune of more than $1.5 billion by Chinese investors with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Hunter had little or no experience in private equity, either, but he had just arrived in Beijing aboard Air Force Two with his father the Vice President, just two weeks before that enormous deal was announced.
And now, once again with no real experience or any formal training in art, Hunter has become an artiste, whose dabblings with collages and mixed-media creations might command top-dollar from international collectors. One might wonder: Is he any good?
Chris Cilizza of CNN asked that of Sebastian Smee, the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic, who likened what he saw to "a cafe painter."
"By which I mean, you see a certain kind of art in coffee shops, and some of it is OK and a lot of it is bad, and sometimes it's surprisingly good. But you wouldn't, unless you were related to the artist, spend more than $1,000 on it."
The New York Times gently described Hunter's work as "leaning toward the surreal." Smee explained, "People sometimes say 'surreal' when they mean 'random.'"
But there's nothing "random" here. It is just yet one more blatant scam by Joe Biden's son. It is genius-level corruption, an ethical nightmare for the White House, and a masterpiece of congressional and media dereliction of duty.
The obvious problem is that even though the White House has said the identities of the purchasers of Hunter's art will be anonymous, there is no way to know. Walter Shaub, the former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said in July:
"There's no mechanism for monitoring, no mechanism for notifying the public if confidentiality is broken, no mechanism for tracking if buyers get access to [the government]."
My investigative team at the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) has the 30,000 emails contained on Hunter Biden's laptop, and the corroborating email records that establish their authenticity. We have been going through these emails by hand and have identified concrete examples of Hunter Biden paying bills for his father while the latter was Vice President. As I said on Maria Bartiromo's Fox News program recently, that is illegal.
We at GAI have seen this kind of thing before. The story of the Clinton Foundation that we broke in 2015 was full of this kind of "bank-shot" influence-peddling and corruption. Companies seeking to influence Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State under President Barack Obama were, inexplicably, suddenly donating enormous sums of money to her family's charity. We were able to identify the donors and their real interests through tax and corporate records, even as the Clinton Foundation itself would not reveal all of its donors. We could, as investigative journalists, corroborate the coincidences through public records with a lot of digging.
No such thing will be possible when Hunter Biden's artwork is peddled by Bergès through his private gallery, especially if the purchasers are foreign interests from countries where tax laws are not so rigorous. Bergès himself has said he is eager to expand his business into the Chinese market. Who will know if China's art-loving billionaires, all connected deeply to the Communist Party and in some cases to the Chinese military, are Hunter's benefactors? Are we really supposed to believe that the anonymity of the buyers will remain a tight secret, and that Chinese government-connected buyers will not somehow let the Bidens know they are Hunter's newest and biggest fans?
They have done it before, as we have demonstrated.
Even if the key figure of this ridiculously obvious ploy for cash payments were not the son of the U.S. president, this story shines the spotlight on the other problem with international art sales – its exemption from the kinds of disclosure laws and money-laundering preventatives that financial institutions such as banks must follow.
Money-laundering in the art market is nothing new. A Senate Homeland Security and Government Oversight committee report last year identified the art market as the "largest legal, unregulated market in the United States" and a significant weakness in the nation's sanctions and anti-money laundering regimes. Simply put, art transactions are not covered under what's known as the Bank Secrecy Act, which require financial institutions to maintain anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing controls. The large auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's do this voluntarily, but smaller, private sellers are under no obligation to do so.
Private art sales, which accounted for 58% of the U.S. art market by value in 2019, are unregulated. One private dealer with 30 years of experience in the art market explained to the committee that she relied on the advice of lawyers, an awareness of potential "red flags" and her "gut" to self-regulate.
Our investigation uncovered a text message from Hunter Biden to his daughter, in which he complained about paying the bills for the rest of the Biden family. We know, for example, Hunter's businesses were paying contractors at Joe Biden's Delaware home and also paying $300 per month phone bills for private phones used by the Vice President. Is there any reason to doubt that the proceeds from Hunter's artistic payday will somehow once again find their way into the Biden family estate?
Why is this not being scrutinized? The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer, (R-KY), has sent letters to Bergès demanding the complete documentation of transactions involving Hunter's art sales. Comer is unlikely to get it: only the Democrat majority on the committee can authorize subpoenas to compel those records. As the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent editorial, the committee's chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), seems uninterested in doing so. Why are they failing to scrutinize what is so obviously a back-door scheme to funnel money to the president's son from foreign sources? Every American who cares about transparency in government should be outraged.
Peter Schweizer, President of the Governmental Accountability Institute, is a Gatestone Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow and author of the best-selling books Profiles in Corruption, Secret Empires and Clinton Cash, among others.