Rybolovlev's suspicion lingered, which is why when Sandy Heller mentioned the Modigliani in St. Bart's a month later, Rybolovlev asked him how much he had sold it for, something he ordinarily might have been reluctant to ask. (He says Bouvier asked that their transactions be kept confidential for fear that combining art dealing with art storage would be seen as a conflict of interest, a practice the art dealer Larry Gagosian has indeed criticized.) As he sat there stunned in the Eden Rock din- ing room, he says, realizing how much he had overpaid, his first reaction was, "I wanted to call Tania and ask her, 'Do you know what Yves is doing?' "

In one current money-laundering case, United States authorities have accused Malaysian officials and associates in a civil complaint of converting billions of dollars of embezzled public funds into investments like real estate and art. Masterworks by Basquiat, Rothko, Van Gogh and others were purchased, many at Christie’s, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors. Later, a Cayman Island company owned by one of the accused launderers took out a $107 million loan from Sotheby’s in 2014 using some of those artworks as collateral, authorities say.
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Keep in mind that Kislyak is the same Russian ambassador who routinely met with numerous members of Trump’s campaign throughout 2016, discussing sanctions, Syria, and Crimea. If Trump really didn’t know what was going on, why is his son-in-law meeting with a bank that has spent years trying to avoid sanctions for laundering money for Putin’s inner circle and controlled by the Russian President himself? If we believe he was that oblivious, Trump’s ignorance of his own business operations would beggar belief.
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.
"[If ] he would have asked me," she says, "I would have told him." The question echoing around the art world is how one of the world's richest, toughest investors—whose trusts own the penthouse at 15 Central Park West (bought for $88 million in 2012 and occupied by his daughter Ekaterina, a college student at the time); two entire Greek islands (Sparti and Skorpios, famous for hosting Jacqueline Kennedy's wedding to Aristotle Onassis); the Maison de l'Amitié (a Palm Beach mansion bought from Donald Trump for $95 million, which Rybolovlev reportedly intends to demolish due to mold problems); a $20 million property on Kauai bought from Will Smith; a $100 million yacht; homes in Gstaad, Geneva, Paris, and Monaco; and AS Monaco, the soccer team—could make himself so vulnerable. Was he, like many new billionaires, in such a hurry to build a glittering collection that he failed to "learn art," as experienced patrons know one must to avoid overpaying? The art market is often described as insider trading conducted by a small but sophisticated network of "experts" who prey upon the naïveté of the nouveau riche. Did Rybolovlev, a famously shrewd and strategic investor, underestimate its ability to confound and deceive? Until now he hadn't talked.
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In the early 2000s, Brazilian financier Edmar Cid Ferreira had embezzled funds from his business empire — and he needed a way to hide the money. He found it in Hannibal, a painting by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Appraised by the art world at $8 million, Ferreira showed up at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2007 with the painting and a bill of lading listing the value as $100.

On April 17, 2019, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida (the “Government”) announced its non-prosecution agreement (available here) entered into with a Miami-based gold refinery, Republic Metals Corp. (“RMC”), related to the refinery’s failure to maintain a robust anti-money laundering (“AML”) program. RMC is the second American refinery whose AML program has been identified as deficient by the Government as part of its ongoing probe into gold imports from South American countries such as Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (dubbed “Operation Arch Stanton”). The Government’s decision to decline prosecution against RMC stands in stark contrast to its prosecution last year of another refinery, Texas-based Elemetal LLC (“Elemetal”), arising from the same probe.…
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“Russia had no institutional instruments for regulating this new commercial environment. The courts didn’t function. They didn’t know what dispute resolution in business actually was. And so everyone engaging in the new commerce had to employ their own security force in order to ensure the integrity of their business contracts. These guys were called privatised law enforcement agencies by sociologists but they are quite simply the Mafia,” he says.
At the restaurant Rappo, who speaks eloquent English as well as French, Russian, and her native Bulgarian, chain-smokes throughout the evening, and although she orders champagne, she scarcely touches it, preferring to talk, talk, and talk. Both her husband, a handsome, quiet man, and her lawyer, "Maître Michel," occasionally interrupt, telling her, "Tania, no, don't say that," but clearly Rappo is not a woman who is told what to do.
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Secrecy has long been central to the art world. Anonymity protects privacy, adds mystique and cuts the taint of crass commerce from such transactions. But some experts are now saying this sort of discretion — one founded in a simpler time, when only a few wealthy collectors took part in the art market — is not only quaint but also reckless when art is traded like a commodity and increasingly suspected in money laundering.

So the first thing that I would do would be to subpoena the brokers and the people, the other people that were involved in the transactions, and the title  companies and the other intermediaries that would have that kind of information. Then I would go to the banks next. But I actually think some of the intermediary entities in a lot of these transactions are going to be where a lot of the information is….


Rybolovlev, meanwhile, was only getting richer. In 2007 Uralkali floated on the London Stock Exchange and became the most successful Russian IPO ever. Less than a year later the Putin regime—which is notoriously antagonistic toward Russian oligarchs living abroad, particularly ones whose fortunes derive from buying post-Soviet assets on the cheap—summoned him to a meeting in Moscow,
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.”
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You need to use friends and trusted business associates and a willing collaborator at your desired destination to create a reliable bridge for turning your sanctioned or dirty money into sweet real estate so it can be liquefied when units are being sold or rented. Ideally, that collaborator needs to be in a bind and be willing to look the other way and not ask questions.
The looting and illicit export of art treasures is not a new problem. It’s happened whenever there have been armed conflicts during which victorious troops plundered churches, temples and other buildings. Germany carried out massive looting in World War II. By the start of the 21st Century the trade in illicit antiquities had become so huge it was worth billions of dollars each year and was the biggest international crime outside drug and arms trafficking according to The New York Times. When a piece is stolen, the consequence for scholars is tragic, because essential information about the piece – where it was found, what else was with it – is lost forever.
Finally, he also failed to vet his partner in Trump Scion hotel opening soon in Dallas, who has deep ties in money laundering from Kazakhstan and Russia, and opened two offshores in Cyprus in 2008, which, again, is the favorite destination for Russian oligarchs’ exported cash. (The Scion deal ultimately fell apart due to public opposition to the project.)
Bouvier is accused of fraud and complicity with money laundering along with an accomplice, Tania Rappo, and a third person who hasn’t been immediately identified according to Monaco General Prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dreno, who didn’t respond to Forbes’ requests for comment. The embattled Swiss is out on bail, set at €10 million and to be paid in three installments, and is ready for war.
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Still swirling around the market are persistent rumours that there is even more to the treasure than the known 14 pieces. Archaeologists claim that such finds always include spoons and coins, which were missing when the pieces started coming onto the market. Many believe they are still languishing in Swiss bank vaults, with the owner(s) waiting for the provenance issues to be cleared up entirely. It is to be ardently hoped that one day the whole hoard, in all its magnificence, will be returned to Hungary to be displayed together once again.
But Scotland Yard were onto him, and he was arrested while awaiting delivery of large importation. He skipped bail and fled abroad, fitted out a wooden ketch, loaded it with a ton-and-a-half of cannabis resin and crossed the Atlantic, using a sextant and dead reckoning. He eventually sailed up the Hudson and unloaded to a New York distributor, only to be caught in chase through the streets of Manhattan and sentenced to six years in a penitentiary.
Mr. Ellis serves as Director of Business Development and Marketing of AML RightSource. He has over 15 years of experience in business development, marketing, and professional consulting within the healthcare and financial services industries. Mr. Ellis earned his undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University and obtained his juris doctor from Cleveland State University – Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
The debate about anonymity in the art world has intensified over the past year, fed in part by the release of the so-called Panama Papers, which detailed the use of corporate veils to conceal ownership, dodge taxes and enable crime, its authors say. Now various expert groups, like the Basel Institute, are coming forward with ways for dealers and auction houses to curb secrecy and combat money laundering. In a significant change, Christie’s said last week it has strengthened its policy in recent months and now requires agents looking to sell a work through the auction house to tell it the name of the owner they represent.

Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev had decided to send off a tough 2014 in New York City. The Monaco-based billionaire had been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after a Swiss judge awarded his ex-wife Elena $4.5 billion in their seven-year divorce battle. An avid art collector, Rybolovlev decided to spend New Year’s Eve with Sandy Heller, Steve Cohen’s well-known art adviser. As they exchanged war stories, one particular tale made his jaw drop: it was about a beautiful Nude by Italian artist Amadeo Modigliani that Cohen sold for a juicy $93.5 million to a mystery buyer. What Heller didn’t know was that behind the veil of anonymity stood Rybolovlev, fuming internally on that December 31. Rybolovlev had paid his trusted friend and art broker Yves Bouvier $118 million for the piece, more than $22 million above what he just found out the market value should've been, including the fee. Not one to sit around, the oligarch went for the jugular, filing a criminal complaint in the Principality of Monaco for fraud and money laundering only nine days later. In what promises to be the biggest art scandal of 2015, Bouvier was ambushed by eight police officers who took him into custody this February, tricked by Rybolovlev himself as they were set to discuss payment terms for a masterpiece by Mark Rothko. He’s currently out on bail.
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.”
This would all just be face-palm silliness on the Times’s part, a reflection of its editorial disconnect between the culture pages and the business staff, if the story didn’t also glide over the real point of what is going on here. The best protected transactions in the art market are those that pass through the auction houses because those firms do the KYC due diligence that squelch money laundering. Auction houses have compliance staff and are easily monitored by the law enforcement which doesn’t crack down on large private transactions that take place through lawyers or dealers.  The Times admits this when they point out that Jho Low passed KYC diligence before it was revealed that he was involved in the 1MDB transactions. After it was revealed, he is no longer able to access art markets through the auction houses.

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Former Russian presidential placeholder, and current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev could teach a master class in how these advanced schemes work. Using non-profits and LLCs run by his friends from law school, he was able to secure three massive compounds in Russia, a pair of yachts, run a secret mega-farm, an exclusive vineyard, turn an 18th century palace in his hometown of St. Petersburg into ultra-luxury condos, acquire a pair of yachts, and buy a castle and wine-making operation in Tuscany.


I also learned to drink in Russia, because if you didn't drink with them they didn't trust you. So I learned to buy the icons like this [holds a hand over one of his eyes to show how drunk he was]. I really learned the basics there. The Russians are very educated. I had a great time, which made me forget that this was my university. This was the first time I learned about big smuggling. There was a black market and I became an outlet who had the possibilities to market everything in the West.

← The crate went through customs with a valuation of $100, though it contained Basquiat’s 1982 painting Hannibal (commodities valued under $200 aren’t required to be declared at customs.) The painting had been bought and shipped by Brazilian Banker Edemar cid Ferreira in an elaborate scheme to launder over $50 million that was illegally obtained when Ferreira’s bank, Banco Santos, went bankrupt.
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