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.
He needed to be bailed out by his father in the 1970s, and then again in the 1980s to stave off bankruptcy. He ended up bankrupting multiple companies anyway and trying to hold banks hostage to forgive many of his debts after the Taj Mahal and Plaza Hotel were in dire straits. In 1995, his one year losses exceeded $916 million. Many of his businesses crashed and burned, and according to his ghost writer for The Art of the Deal, much of his business savvy was little more than bluster.
But to dealers and their clients, secrecy is a crucial element of the art market’s mystique and practice. The Art Dealers Association of America dismissed the idea that using art to launder money was even a problem. “The issue is not an industrywide problem and really does not pertain to us,” said Lily Mitchem Pearsall, the association’s spokeswoman.

"We had a sincere friendship," Rybolovlev says. The two families vacationed together, with the Rybolovlevs often treating the Rappos to trips on private airplanes and their yacht. When Elena gave birth to a second daughter, Tania was asked to be godmother. Meanwhile the Rappos escorted the Rybolovlevs as they began making the rounds, helping them get into an exclusive golf club and chaperoning them to society events. As the Rybolovlevs expanded their real estate empire internationally, Tania Rappo also introduced Rybolovlev to real estate brokers abroad (at his request, she says).
The potential role of high-end art and antiquities in money laundering schemes has attracted increasing attention over the last several years, particularly as the prices for such objects steadily rise and a tightening global enforcement and regulatory net has rendered other possible avenues for money laundering increasingly less attractive. The effort to subject U.S. dealers in art and antiquities to Anti-Money-Laundering (“AML”) obligations recently has gained new life.  As we blogged, the House Financial Services Committee just released three proposed bills to codify many of the reform ideas that have been swirling around the Bank Secretary Act (“BSA”) and AML and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”) laws.  One of the bills — entitled as the “To make reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, and for other purposes” —  catalogues various detailed provisions seeking to reform the BSA and AML laws.  Nestled admist all of the other, generally higher-profile proposals (such as the creation of a BSA whistleblower program), one short section of this bill simply expands the list of defined “financial institutions” covered by the BSA to include “dealers in art or antiquities,” and then states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue implementing regulations within 180 days of the bill’s enactment.
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Say you’re an oligarch in a country that loathes them but is powerless to do anything about their existence because the highest levels of government profit off their businesses, legal and not. While you might think you have it made, your position is actually quite precarious. Pull on your leash too much and start commenting on politics, and you might just find yourself in jail for tax evasion and embezzlement, or sent into exile according to the template that shut down a critical news channel first, and stealthily re-nationalized an oil empire soon after that.
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.
The Chinese art market, where regulation is lax, is thought to be particularly prone to money laundering. "The [Chinese] art market has become more and more abnormal," Wang Shouzhi, dean of the Cheung Kong School of Art and Design at Shantou University, told the South China Morning Post in April. "It is saturated with business tricks, fake works and fake prices. … It has become a tool for corruption and money laundering."
A month later the Monte Carlo police arrested one Yves Bouvier, 52, Rybolovlev's longtime procurer of masterpieces, as Bouvier rang the buzzer at La Belle Epoque. A Geneva businessman described by Vanity Fair's French edition as "Swiss to the core," a man who "shuns both the mundane and the extravagant," Bouvier was well known in art circles as an art transporter and as the owner of mysterious storage facilities known as free ports—not as an art dealer or broker. He had been summoned to Monaco ostensibly to complete a long-delayed deal for his Russian patron, but he wound up in a jail cell instead, facing allegations of fraud and money laundering and the possibility of a long prison sentence.
For the next few years Rappo's relationship with Rybolovlev was status quo. It was not a friendship, she says: "I had affection for her. I never had affection for him... He's a block of ice." However, she continued to be a liaison between Rybolovlev and Bouvier; and she continued to receive introduction fees from Bouvier, an arrangement for which she says she received around 5 percent whenever a deal closed. She and Elena stopped speaking for a reason Rappo won't divulge.

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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.
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Speaking on the sidelines of the Art Business Conference, Pierre Valentin, head of the art law practice at London law firm Constantine Cannon, said laundering illicit funds through the art market was seductive because purchases at auctions "can be anonymous and it's a moveable asset. You can put the art on a private plane and take it anywhere. Plus there is no registration system for art."
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.
Having turned the craft of international art smuggling into an art in its own right, Michel Van Rijn was once wanted by authorities all over the world for sneaking valuable pieces of art across sea and land. With millions in the bank, Michel lived the life of a playboy. He owned private planes, enjoyed a harem of beautiful women, and did business with some of the world's most dangerous criminals-many of whom were members of various governments (and probably still are).
In the United States federal money laundering statutes apply to nearly every major transaction through which illegal profits are disguised to look legal. Typically, dirty money is laundered through the purchase of, say, a penthouse apartment, or mixed in with the earnings of a legitimate business like a restaurant. When gambling winnings or drug proceeds come out the other end, they appear as a real estate asset or business profit. They look clean.

Stories of art and money laundering tend to be media friendly, and often involve the wealthy behaving poorly.  In one notorious case, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) seized, via a civil forfeiture action, Jean Michel Basquiat’s 1981 painting, Hannibal. This work — later returned to Brazil by the DOJ — had been smuggled into the U.S. by Edemar Cid Ferreira, a former Brazilian banker who was convicted of money laundering and other offenses, and who allegedly converted some of his laundered proceeds into a significant art collection.  According to the DOJ, although Hannibal had been appraised at a value of $8 million, it had been smuggled by Ferreira into the U.S. from Brazil, via the Netherlands, with false shipping invoices stating that the contents of the shipment were worth $100.  Other stories provide less genteel tales of drug cartels, terrorist organizations and other criminal syndicates financing themselves through systemic looting and the illicit antiquities trade.


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Morland was heir to a Quaker dynasty that made a fortune turning sheepskins into coats, and lived a gilded youth: his father was a renowned physician and his mother was a key figure in the modern art world, friend of George Orwell and Henry Moore. At 6ft 3in tall, good looking and well connected, Morland skied for England, had a beautiful wife and children, a des-res in south-west London, a farmhouse in Malta and the world at his feet.
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.
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.
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