Steven Rita-Procter

PhD Candidate
Steven Rita-Procter photo
Dissertation Title
Crime and Criminality in the Art Markets: Money Laundering, Arms Trading, and the International Financing of Organized Crime & Terrorism

Before coming to Osgoode I received a PhD in English Literature from York University in 2018. My dissertation considered the history-writing aspect of transitional justice reports and the complex ways in which truth commissions and human rights tribunals attend to the political and cultural vicissitudes of shared traumas. As part of my doctoral work, I had the privilege of attending several human rights tribunals as both an honourary witness and as a trial monitor, and of participating in the process of bearing testimony alongside many inspirational and courageous survivors of both state and imperial violence. These experiences continue to inform my research and teaching practices.


My dissertation examines the historical origins of what I call the criminogenic characteristics of the contemporary art markets (those attributes that foster and perpetuate criminal activities such as insider trading, money laundering, the circumvention of sanctions, etc.). My dissertation argues that these criminogenic characteristics derive from three interconnected factors: Firstly, the art markets operate under a strict code of confidentiality that shields transactions from public scrutiny. This level of secrecy creates an environment conducive to illicit activities, as market participants can conceal their identities and avoid accountability.

Secondly, the valuation of artworks poses unique challenges. Unlike tangible assets with objectively determined values, artworks are subjective in nature, making it difficult to establish their true worth (the bewildering business of interpreting why one work of art is worth tens of millions of dollars while another near-identical work is essentially worthless). This subjectivity allows for all manner of manipulation, fraud, and financial crime.

Lastly, the dual nature of artworks as both ethereal creative objects and tangible assets complicates the legal and regulatory landscape. This duality allows market players to exploit loopholes and engage in activities that may circumvent traditional criminal statutes designed for other types of assets.

In mapping out the historical origins and legal consequences of each of these three unique factors, my dissertation explores the intersection of the exclusive world of the fine art markets and its seedy criminal underbelly.