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.
According to Bersheda, the criminal complaint she filed last year was against Bouvier only. Rybolovlev was already hurt and angry, but the serious pain came, he says, when he heard that investigators had found commissions from Bouvier in Rappo's bank accounts going back to 2004. Rappo knew Rybolovlev to be reserved and wary, he says. He let his guard down around Bouvier because he trusted her. At that point he began to see Rappo, not Bouvier, at the center of the spider's web. Their falling out has led him to ask what he calls "difficult philosophical questions." Had it not been for the dentist's wife he would never have gotten involved with Bouvier.
"To put the mother of your two children in prison just not to give her money—what kind of person is that?" Rappo says. "This is the style of Mr. Rybolovlev, and that's exactly what happened to us. He wants to humiliate people and put such stress on them that they give up." (Rybolovlev brushes all this off and says Elena cannot stand to hear Tania Rappo's name.) I put it to Rappo: Why would Rybolovlev target her and Bouvier if not for the money he says they owe him?
Look, I've been shot at on three separate occasions, I've had guns on my head, I've had police chasing me... To survive I have been a chameleon. As you know, I speak many languages. Also, I'm not attached to anything. It's like living near a fault line-if you hear a noise, pack your things and get the fuck out of there. Don't become too accustomed to anything. I can sleep like a baby on a little field bed.
Trump’s $125 million asking price for the so-called House of Friendship should’ve scared off any potential buyers, never mind get an offer at $95 million for a house in which the owner would never set foot and tear it down while doing absolutely nothing with it for eight years. Would he not get suspicious about the Russian billionaire wildly overspending on real estate?
Happy with my work, the next time he took me to Armenia. He was smuggling of course, and when we got there we had drinks with the chief of police. There was a big organization bringing in lots of pieces from Moscow and Leningrad. The Russians and the Armenians were like mafia clans. They were very well-organized and working together. From there we took a bunch of art and flew to Beirut-the customs there were in on the game. We paid them off. That was basically the first time I smuggled on a large scale.
Michel: Well, by the time I was 15 I had been kicked out of seven schools. I must have been ADHD or whatever, because I fucking hated school and was always looking to start something for myself. So I began importing cheap hippie coats from Istanbul. They were basically sheepskins turned inside out with some sleeves on them. I began selling them in this hashish bar in Holland. They sold like fucking hotcakes. So I was going up and down between Istanbul and Holland quite a lot. Business was going well, and I was eventually approached in Istanbul by a man named E.
These funds, as they’re called in Russia, are operated by LLCs that transfer assets, take out loans, and can make a single large organization doing all sorts of questionable deals and making eyebrow-raising purchases when viewed as a single entity, into a web of seemingly unrelated organizations with very different agendas. With enough records to have to sift through, they can hide their affiliations for years, often in plain sight, just because the web is too tangled to really unravel without a very good reason to spend months parsing paperwork.
Perhaps the most interesting thread is Simpson’s suggestion that the Trump Organization could have been used by Russians to launder money—an arrangement that would have both allowed Kremlin-linked figures to scrub cash and would have created possible blackmail material over the now-president, since the Russian government would be aware that a crime had been committed.
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.
The Toulouse-Lautrec work, “Au Lit: Le Baiser,” consigned for sale at Sotheby’s in London in 2015, depicts two women embracing on a bed. The Swiss dealer who brought the work to Sotheby’s, Yves Bouvier, signed the standard paperwork surrounding such a sale, which requires the consignor to indicate he or she either owns the painting or is authorized to sell it. After the sale, he was given the proceeds.
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.
“And this doesn’t just apply to the Russians. This is a general cultural thing whereby anyone with money is encouraged to come here. You can effectively buy residency. You’ve got non-dom status, which is very attractive, you’ve got the anonymous companies where beneficial ownership remains hidden, so to this day we have around 100,000 properties in this country whose owners are unknown.”
At the same time, Trump partnered with a real estate developer called Bayrock, founded by Soviet-born Tevfik Ariv who set up office in Trump Tower. In 1999, Russian-born former gangster implicated in a Wall Street pump-and-dump scheme and money laundering, Felix Sater, joined Bayrock and would become a top Trump adviser. Sater claimed they would talk often, with him pitching ideas on a regular basis. By 2005, the duo is trying yet again to build a hotel in Moscow to no avail.
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.
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Around the same time, a lawsuit against Sater and Bayrock is gaining steam, accusing the two key Trump partners in evading taxes on $250 million through various real estate projects the trio would work on. Officially, Sater is no longer an advisor to Trump and says the two just sporadically kept in touch, although in 2016 he would max out contributions to Trump’s presidential campaign and praise him in American and Russian media.
Of course that’s why money laundering exists. One of the simplest ways to do it is to create a web of offshore companies strategically located in countries that don’t ask a lot of questions about where the money came from, but are just happy to take their cut. Many are the usual suspects in the Caribbean, but other favorites include the Seychelles, Cook Islands — which are now being called the Crook Islands by the natives thanks to their sudden surge in popularity as an offshore destination — and of course, Cyprus, which is heavily favored by Russians.
Bonhams and Christie’s say that they had done research on their pieces, but were hampered by Italian authorities’ refusal to make the photographic database available to auction houses: “While we have a careful due diligence process in all other respects we have no way, without the co-operation of the Carabinieri, of checking this particular database. This case illustrates why that co-operation would be helpful,” said a spokesperson for Christie’s. As for the Roman statue, it was put on display in a New York art fair last year – but failed to sell. The US authorities are hoping to return it to Italy.
There are no accepted estimates on the amounts of money laundered through the art market, although the general belief is that it is enormous and expanding as regulations on other asset classes, from real estate to foreign exchange, tighten up everywhere. The International Monetary Fund estimated that "the amount available for laundering through the financial system" was worth 2.7 per cent of global gross domestic product in 2009 or $1.6-trillion (U.S.).
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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"It's easy for [Bouvier and Rappo] to paint me as the stereotypical Russian oligarch," he says. But if he were so interested in hiding his assets from Elena, he says, why would he announce to the world that he had been the victim of a multibillion-dollar scam, in the process letting it be known how much his trusts had overpaid for each of his artworks?
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.
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.
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.
The police also arrested Tania Rappo, a charismatic Monaco socialite whom officers interrupted in the middle of a massage. Once a member of Rybolovlev's inner circle, Rappo and her husband Olivier, a retired dentist, had dined with the tycoon and his parents only days before. Now facing charges of money laundering, she would later tell me over dinner how the oligarch had plied her with drink as they chatted in his penthouse.