Schiff, however, has long been interested in the idea. “The allegation that concerns me most is ... the issue of money laundering, and not money laundering alone by Mr. Manafort but whether the Russians also laundered money through the Trump Organization,” he told me in October. “I mention that because when most people think of kompromat, they think of the salacious video. But if the Russians were laundering money... that would be a very powerful lever the Russians would have over the president of the United States.”
The 2,200 photographs by masters like Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Edward Steichen — more than could fit into an 18-wheeler — were paid for, court papers say, with some of the $78 million that the authorities say Mr. Rivkin got from defrauding oil companies like Shell, Exxon, and Mobil. Mr. Rivkin, who has not been charged with any crimes, was last thought to be in Spain and had arranged to have the photos shipped there.
At first Rybolovlev collected slowly, buying a handful of works, including a Monet water lily painting, Gauguin's House of Hymns, three Picassos, and three Modiglianis. After 2009, however, the pace quickened. Rybolovlev was no longer interested in decorating his walls with museum pieces, he says, perhaps because the walls themselves were a subject of dispute.
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Rybolovlev has turned up the legal pressure on Bouvier. Beyond getting him arrested in Monaco, the oligarch’s legal team, headed by Tetiana Bersheda, got Singapore’s High Court to impose a $500 million freeze on Bouvier's assets, his MEI Invest Limited, and supposed accomplice Tania Rappo. In Geneva, public prosecutor Jean-Bernanrd Schmid conducted a search in Natural Le Coultre’s headquarters and a gallery looking for documents related to the Modigliani and Da Vinci transactions. Rybolovlev is operating through the two holding companies that own the art collection, Accent Delight International and Xitrans Finance.
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It is hard to imagine a business more custom-made for money laundering, with million-dollar sales conducted in secrecy and with virtually no oversight. What this means in practical terms is that “you can have a transaction where the seller is listed as ‘private collection’ and the buyer is listed as ‘private collection,’ ” said Sharon Cohen Levin, chief of the asset forfeiture unit of the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. “In any other business, no one would be able to get away with this.”
But given his recent history of making splashy but unsupported claims, it’s difficult to grant Nunes the benefit of the doubt. In the spring, he made a series of extremely serious allegations against the Obama administration, including improper surveillance of Trump aides. No proof of those allegations emerged, and the Justice Department has since said there was no surveillance. It soon became clear that Nunes was receiving information from White House staffers (who have since been pushed out of the White House), even as he was overseeing an ostensibly independent investigation into the president.
Over the years Bouvier has shifted his core business from art transportation to building and operating vast, secretive high-tech fortresses used for storing not just artworks but cars, wine, coins, and furniture. Such repositories, known as free ports, have existed for centuries, but until quite recently their primary purpose was to hold raw materials in transit—a shipment of soybeans, say. They were found primarily in transit zones, such as airports and canals, and they usually enjoyed one of the benefits of existence at the jurisdictional margins: tax and duty freedom.
Both Bouvier and Rappo would deny the charges, hire lawyers, and spend the following months telling their stories to the media. Bouvier's defense was simple: Yes, he had charged astronomical markups to his client, but, as he told Vanity Fair, "I did not act as intermediary but as the owner [of the art]. I had a right to a profit; it's the law of busi- ness." (Bouvier refused to answer questions for this article.)
And in response to Beijing’s strict capital controls which make it illegal for an individual move more than $50,000 out of China per year, wealthy folks from China are turning increasingly to smuggling art out of the country instead. "Items can be bought and sold relatively anonymously, and even when a transaction occurs, complex ownership schemes -- many with a degree of secrecy attached -- are widespread," Paul Tehan of TrackArt, a Hong Kong-based art risk consultancy, told CNN. According to Tehan, senior managers of an art shipping company based in China were arrested for allegedly forging the value of imported art in order to help buyers avoid paying millions in duties.
Rybolovlev ultimately invited me to La Belle Epoque because he has a story to tell, or rather explain. For the last year he has been at the center of the most astonishing scandal in the art world in years, an alleged billion-dollar fraud that has dealers, artists, and collectors sweating. At stake may be not just the money of an angry and very powerful man intent on recouping his losses but the thing the art world values more than anything: the freedom to operate in darkness.
Sotheby’s declined to comment on whether it believed Mr. Bouvier to be the owner. But it says it knew him very well as a customer and that he had represented to them that he had the legal right to sell the property. As to its policy of learning the identity of ultimate owners, Sotheby’s said it takes a risk-based approach — sometimes requiring disclosure depending on the specific facts and circumstances of each situation.
Last year, when she found out Elena had been arrested, she says she got nervous; she calls the event a turning point in her relationship with Dmitry. (If so, Rybolovlev says he didn't notice—Rappo still showed up for events he held.) The arrest had taken place during a visit to Cyprus, where Rybolovlev has considerable financial assets, including at one time a large stake in the country's biggest bank. Rappo says Rybolovlev told her, "There are three places in the world I can do whatever I want. One is Cyprus, one is Skorpios, and the other is Monaco." And she claims he had Elena arrested—even though she spent only a short while in custody—to scare her into dropping her lawsuits (filed in several countries) in pursuit of her ex-husband's money.
Tucked behind Kensington Palace and protected by armed police at checkpoints on either end is the street known as Billionaire’s Row, the most expensive in London and perhaps the world. A private road owned by the Crown Estates, traffic is light and slow here, and a prohibition on photography is enforced by the private security guards who watch over every other house.
We empirically analyze the illicit trade in cultural property and antiques, taking advantage of different reporting incentives between source and destination countries. We generate a measure of illicit trafficking in these goods by comparing imports recorded in United States' customs data and the (purportedly identical) trade recorded by customs authorities in exporting countries. This reporting gap is highly correlated with corruption levels of exporting countries. This correlation is stronger for artifact-rich countries. As a placebo test, we do not observe any such pattern for US imports of toys. We report similar results for four other Western country markets. (JEL F14, K42, Z11, Z13)
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This painting, known as “Hannibal” after a word scribbled on its surface, was brought into the United States in 2007 as part of a Brazilian embezzler’s elaborate effort to launder money, the authorities say. It was later seized at a Manhattan warehouse by federal investigators who are now preparing to return it to Brazil at the behest of law enforcement officials there.
Rybolovlev says he heard through the grapevine that Rappo had gotten richer, acquiring apartments in Paris, London, and Monaco during the years he had known her. Her explanation, he says, was that she had come into a windfall thanks to her family's sale of real estate in Bulgaria. Rybolovlev also said she had given money to Bouvier to invest in the Singapore free port (which Rappo denies), and Bouvier had made her a fortune.
Last year, when she found out Elena had been arrested, she says she got nervous; she calls the event a turning point in her relationship with Dmitry. (If so, Rybolovlev says he didn't notice—Rappo still showed up for events he held.) The arrest had taken place during a visit to Cyprus, where Rybolovlev has considerable financial assets, including at one time a large stake in the country's biggest bank. Rappo says Rybolovlev told her, "There are three places in the world I can do whatever I want. One is Cyprus, one is Skorpios, and the other is Monaco." And she claims he had Elena arrested—even though she spent only a short while in custody—to scare her into dropping her lawsuits (filed in several countries) in pursuit of her ex-husband's money.
The AML Standards for Art Market Operators (“AML Standards”) are set forth by the Basel Institute on Governance, an independent not-for-profit organization.  Not surprisingly, the AML Standards adopt a “risk based” approach to establishing measures to mitigate money laundering risks, and further note that “[s]mall businesses may not have the resources to address money-laundering risks in the same way that large auction houses or major dealers and galleries will have, and may have a different risk exposure.”  The AML Standards are intended to apply to everone trading in art objects, and intermediaries between buyers and sellers.  They also suggest that service industries supprting the trade in art objects that are already subject to AML laws, like financial institutions, should identify their clients and customers in the art trade “as higher risk as long as there are no internationally applicable standards.”
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