Stolen art tracking specialists ALR and ARG entangled in ‘bizarre’ legal row

Two rival art recovery companies, the Art Loss Register (ALR) and the Art Recovery Group (ARG), are currently embroiled in a “bizarre” legal dispute, after the long-leading ALR accused ARG of “breaching competition law”.

The two companies, who task themselves with tracking down sculptures, paintings and antiquities that have been stolen or looted, have found themselves at loggerheads in a battle that could very well end up before the monopolies watchdog, or even in court.

Best known for famously recovering Aubusson’s 18th-century French Pastoral Tapestry 32 years after it went missing, ALR has long set the benchmark for art recovery. The company has stacked up a comprehensive database of missing works for over a quarter of a century – allowing art dealers and auction houses to carry out checks – with very little in the way of competition.

However, this all changed in 2013 when Chris Marinello, formerly ALR’s general counsel of seven years, left the company and founded an up-and-coming competitor, the ARG.

Now, in a letter to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Mr Marinello’s ARG has accused its ageing rival of “implementing a persistent, pervasive and systematic plan to eliminate ARG from the market”, claiming “breaches of competition law” and arguing that ALR’s monopoly has dominated the industry for too long.

Marinello said: “We won’t be bullied by anyone. Especially not for introducing much-needed innovation to due diligence for the art market. We firmly believe that competition will bring clarity, not confusion. The art market would not be well served with only one auction house or just one art gallery, so why shouldn’t consumers be offered a choice in due diligence providers?”

James Ratcliffe, director of recoveries at the opposing ALR said: “We are trying to do the best we can as a business but we are certainly not bullying him or his company.”

“I think it’s incredibly bizarre that Mr Marinello’s taken this to the Competition and Markets Authority”, Mr Ratcliffe added.

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.