We went with the police and about 20 Nigerians into the gallery the day before the opening. There were all of these fucking posh people sipping champagne, and in we came to shut it down. You should've seen their fucking jaws! I made a statement: "Don't touch the heritage of these people!" And it's not that I was a white knight-not at all. But I began to come across certain things that I just couldn't step over.
He told Swiss publication Le Temps that Rybolovlev owes his company “tens of millions of euros,” while claiming that the oligarch set him up after failing to cough up the cash for Rothko’s No. 6 – Violet, Green, and Red. “[Rybolovlev] couldn’t pay the balance of the last painting he bought from my company, the most beautiful Rothko in the world.” Invited by the buyer to chat, Bouvier “fell into an ambush” as he was detained and handcuffed by eight police officers.
The oligarch is dismissing the whole thing as procedural, Bersheda tells me, but Frank Michel, the lawyer who filed charges on behalf of Tania Rappo (close friend-turned-enemy of Rybolovlev) of tampering with police evidence and invasion of privacy tells me it's serious. "Rybolovlev will be charged," Michel says, "and then there will be a trial involving one of the most powerful men here. Monaco has never seen the like."
Price fluidity is one of the key advantages of using artwork for money laundering. Coupled with a lack of a regulatory body authorized to oversee the value of art, pricing art is effectively a free-for-all. For example, after 9/11, Americans yearned for nostalgia, including Norman Rockwell paintings. Some of his folksy paintings tripled in value — from $15 million in 2006 to $45 million seven years later.
The room is oval and intimate. He sits in an armchair, back to flung-open French doors, the yacht-filled harbor of La Condamine beyond. Curiously, since Rybolovlev is the owner of one of the world's most valuable art collections, not a single work of art is on view. However, books, mainly on business and soccer, line the shelves. When I point out one by Donald Trump, he laughs. "I've never read it," he says. "It was put there by the Candy brothers." I sit on the sofa close to Bersheda, who is going to translate. Rybolovlev's trust in the glamorous, brainy 31-year-old lawyer is obvious. They met six years ago in Geneva, where she worked for a law firm that he had retained. He asked her to work for him and she refused, but subsequently she set up her own firm, of which he is now a major client. She and I met last summer at Art Basel, where she gauged whether he should talk to me.
Meanwhile, Trump was exploring a foray into reality TV about a St. Petersburg-based MMA fighter and his son, Donald Trump Jr., told the media that “Russians make up a disproportionate amount of Trump assets,” a claim his brother Eric would take even further in 2014 when he said that Trump has “all the money [he] needs from Russia” and cited golf-loving oligarchs investing over $100 million in the family business. Eric would later deny he ever said any such thing, playing into his father’s campaign against “the lying media and its fake news” when this story was dug up earlier this year by journalists.
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Rapid and dramatic rises—and collapses—in price are bad things for money laundering whose sole purpose is to find a relatively stable vehicle to mask the source of funds. Money launderers are not looking to make a profit on their purchases let alone a killing. In fact, a money launderer is willing to take a loss on the vehicle that hides the illicit source of the funds because that is the price of washing the money. If a money launderer buys something with dirty money that has the potential to be unsalable for clean money, it doesn’t work. Art, even some of the world’s best art, is often temporarily unsalable for a variety of real and legitimate reasons.
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“I've felt all along in the Russia investigation that the most important issues were those that had the potential of exerting a continuing influence over the administration and over U.S. policy,” Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me Friday. “And if the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization, the Russians would know it, the president would know it, and that could be very powerful leverage.”
The wealthy figured this out in a big way back in the 1980s, giving rise to ‘art stars’ valued in the millions. And with the increasing popularity and geographical scope of biennials and art fairs in the 1990s, rich people all over the world now have access to seas of multi-million dollar investments that can be rolled up and stored just about anywhere.
Buried treasure, mysterious deaths, looting, forged documents, secretive Swiss bank vaults and shadowy intermediaries. This is not a description of a Dan Brown thriller. It’s real life: the trade in illegally exported antiquities. As prices soar into the millions of dollars for the top pieces, so does the incentive to dig up treasures in Italy, Greece, Turkey and farther afield, pass them to “runners” who will sneak them illegally across borders, store them in a Swiss vault and then quietly slip them into the trade. The players in this murky world can make a fortune, but this is a dangerous game.
Scott has lectured and presented extensively regarding cybersecurity and corporate espionage at numerous conferences around the globe. He has recently overseen the development of several cell phone detection tools used to enforce a “no cell phone policy” in correctional, law enforcement, and secured government facilities. He is regularly interviewed for leading national publications, and major network television stations including Fox, Bloomberg, Good Morning America, CNN, CCTV, CNBC, & MSNBC. He is the author of "Hacked Again" and writes, "In a modern digital world no one is safe from being hacked, not even a renown cybersecurity expert."
In the tight-knit world of art dealers and mega-buyers, where insider information is the name of the game, Bouvier's case could be prove to be a game changer, as it potentially pits collectors against brokers, putting inherent conflicts of interest in the spotlight. At the same time, Rybolovlev is playing a high-stakes game, as a sophisticated collector and global businessman of his stature is not one who doesn't understand the risks he's taking. His lawyer claims other "victims" of Mr. Bouvier have already approached them, while the embattled King of the free ports believes he will clear his name in a Monaco court. Whatever happens the impact could be permanent.
"Mr. R would like to meet you in his office," Bersheda says. "It's cozier." We walk down the hall and confront a wooden door without handles. I pause. It slides apart as if we're in a James Bond movie, and behind it stands Rybolovlev with an unexpectedly warm smile. He's slim and dressed in a crisp blue-and-white-striped shirt, charcoal pants, and black velvet slippers—a signature Russian touch. "Thank you for coming," he says. He looks younger than in photographs, and softer, perhaps because he's not wearing his usual rectangular metal-rimmed spectacles.
And Sater was far from the only person with shady connections doing business with Trump. In 2008, oligarch and fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a Trump property for double what it was worth, which can be a classic money laundering technique meant to bake payments or bribes into what looks like a real estate deal. It seems hard to believe that Rybolovlev would think that a $41 million property more than doubled in value in less than a year.
This panel will be part of a day-long forum at the University, co-hosted by Professor Alexander Cooley, Associate Professor Tonya Lee Putnam and Adjunct Professor Matthew Murray. The Forum aims to stimulate in-depth discussion among academics and professionals and generate systemic and innovative solutions to counter the rise of kleptocracy. Other panelists will explore law enforcement and expanding the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as well as the challenges of investigating and researching oligarchs. The event will feature leading U.S. experts and scholars from law enforcement, academia, journalism, and finance.
Philip Byler, Broadening’s lawyer in New York, said that the inaccurate invoices were merely a shortsighted attempt by the art dealer that Broadening hired to save importation fees. “It was not done with the intention of smuggling,” he said. He also challenged the Brazilian authorities’ claim, saying that “Hannibal” was legally purchased from a company owned by Mr. Ferreira’s wife.
You always have to be a step ahead of them. Most of them you could pay off, but some you couldn't. I was cocky. I would show off in their faces sometimes. It was stupidity, but I saw the news of my smuggling in the papers and I liked it, it showed them I could still do it even though they were after me. Also I'd travel on fake passports and change my appearance. Instead of blue eyes I'd change them to brown with contacts, I'd dye my hair blonde... all those corny tricks. At that time they worked.
Once purchased, the art can disappear from view for years, even decades. A lot of the art bought at auctions goes to freeports – ultra-secure warehouses for the collections of millionaires and billionaires, ranging from Picassos and gold to vintage Ferraris and fine wine. The freeports, which exist in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Singapore, offer a variety of tax advantages because the goods stored in them are technically in transit. The Economist magazine reported that the freeport near the Geneva airport alone is thought to hold $100 billion (U.S.) of art.