When art and crime mix, a wide spectrum of illegal behaviours come onto the screen—forgery and fraud, theft and extortion, money laundering, and document and identity fraud. These are also important issues of threats to the integrity of cultural heritage, as well as the import and export of antiquities and other items of cultural heritage.

International art theft has been estimated to be worth as much as US$6 billion per year (International Foundation for Art Research 1995). Australia, with its small art market and geographical isolation, has its own unique dynamics, and art crime here is mainly concerned with forgery and theft of paintings. Forgery can have a significant impact on the art market. It instils a lack of confidence in investors and, when publicised, can depress the sale of the particular artist or school that is subject to the forgeries. When international markets lose confidence, this could be particularly disastrous for Aboriginal communities, as the artwork is often the source of their economic livelihood.

The art industry, as part of the luxury goods industry, is also an attractive industry to money launderers. As it can be difficult to determine the value of a painting, illicit funds can be used to buy an item of considerable value and the true value unstated. There are challenges for law enforcement because of the specialised nature of the work and the particular knowledge of art required by police who working this field. In December 1999, the Australian Institute of Criminology ran Australia’s first conference on art crime. This paper explores all these issues surrounding art crime and its prevention.