Regardless of whether this provision ultimately is enacted, the underlying issue will persist. This post discusses some of the general concerns that the art and antiquities world can be misused as a conduit for dirty money. We then discuss the AML Standards for Art Market Operators proposed by the Basel Institute on Governance, and similar standards set forth by the Responsible Art Market, both of which attempt to set forth a framework for those in the business of trading art to mitigate their money laundering risks.…
In fact Trump named Wilbur Ross, the former vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, as his commerce secretary. That bank was involved in deals involving Putin’s inner circle in 2015, and incidentally, Rybolovlev had a 9.9% stake in the bank until 2013, after which he divested for undisclosed reasons. It’s very possible that Ross actually has no role in any of this as former employees say he actually drove Russian oligarchs from the bank over his tenure, and the offshores were only used for a failed bid to build a casino.
But the partisan tensions bubbled over again Friday, with a skirmish over a report apparently produced by a splinter faction of Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee led by Nunes. The GOP majority voted Thursday night to share the report with colleagues, but not to release it to the general public. By Friday morning, however, Republican members of Congress were demanding the memo be made public—with their calls being amplified by Russian-linked Twitter accounts.
And then Rybolovlev found out about a New York Times article he had missed from months earlier reporting that the Leonardo he had purchased for $127.5 million had been sold not long before for only $75 million to $80 million. The piece also stated that many experts thought the work had been done by an assistant in Leonardo's studio, not the artist himself.
Two of the transactions specifically singled out in the complaint are the Modigliani and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi painted around 1500. While Bouvier is accused of illegally pocketing nearly $25 million on Steve Cohen’s Modigliani, with the Da Vinci—which he’s accused of buying for $75 to $80 million before flipping it to Rybolovlev for $127.5 million including fees—he’s said to have personally received as much as $52.5 million. “I’ve never been a broker,” Bouvier defended himself, “my company was the seller […] and the alleged commissions are not commissions but administrative costs,” he says, adding that in ten years, he’d only spoken to Rybolovlev “five times directly […] he was never a friend.”
According to former art consultant Beth Fiore, people don’t normally buy art with cash in the US; “Cash payments for art happen in Russia [and the] Middle East” more often. So if you’re keeping your fortune under your mattress and don’t live in either of those places, you’ll need to get your money into a bank account without alerting the authorities. One way to do that is by smurfing. Despite the mental image of a blue cartoon character riding a surfboard that you may have conjured, smurfing means depositing money into a bank account or several bank accounts by breaking it up in to many small amounts that are deposited at different times, by different people. US banks must report any deposits over $10,000 to the IRS, so in order to stay sneaky, you’ll need to make a series of deposits that are less than that amount. You can hire “smurfs” to help you, who are often ordinary people willing to make an extra buck by opening up a joint bank account in their name, that you or your company has access to, and depositing money into it every day.
In 2008, Elena Rybolovleva, Dmitry's wife of 24 years, whom he met on the first day at medical college back in Russia, filed for divorce, citing adultery on an industrial scale, including parties aboard yachts at which Dmitry shared "young conquests with his friends and other oligarchs." ("He was not a model husband," a spokesman for Dmitry later told the New York Times. "Mr. Rybolovlev never denied the infidelities, but the wife knew about it for many years and passively accepted it.") In the wake of what would become an exceptionally acrimonious divorce battle (which included Elena's being arrested in Cyprus for allegedly stealing a $28 million diamond ring she later proved her ex- husband had given her while they were still married), Dmitry began seeing art as an investment for his daughters' futures, he says. He subsequently started moving the collection into vaults (trophy works by Matisse, Klimt, Rodin, and Magritte by now had joined the stockpile). The art was owned by trusts, which, Elena complained, were designed to thwart her access to the couple's fortune in divorce court. The divorce (which, Dmitry confided exclusively to T&C, was finally settled in October for an undisclosed amount) was at one time famous for being the most expensive in the world, after a Geneva judge awarded Elena half of her ex-husband's fortune, some $4 billion.
Of course, beyond AML-related process concerns, any art dealer — just like any business person — always must remember that just about any financial transaction that involves proceeds known to have originated from illegal activity represents a criminal money laundering offense. Stated otherwise, even if the BSA is not expanded to include dealers in art and antiquities, those in the U.S. art industry still need to bear in mind, in extreme examples, the omnipresent federal criminal code. Sometimes, the provenance of the funds can be more critical than the provenance of the art.