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.
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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.
These offshore companies can cross borders, invest and transfer cash between each other, and after creating a frustrating enough web of transfers and exchanges, as many of them as vague and anonymous as possible mid-transit, they can invest in money-making ventures. Over time, they build small empires in their target destinations, which for Russians are often Switzerland and the UK, particularly London. But that’s fairly basic. The real pros are a lot sneakier than that, using charitable organizations and nonprofits as their identity shields.

I always faced my problems. You have to show some balls. Funnily enough, a lot of these hitmen, if they are cut from the right cloth, will come to you with a certain respect if you don't hide. When the Yugoslavian mafia were going to kidnap my father and brother for trying to set a sting operation against them, I had to come back to Amsterdam to face it. I said, "OK, come along. If you're going to kill me, kill me. If you want my money, go fuck yourself." That's the language they speak. I was standing with my bodyguards on the terrace in Amsterdam and this car flew past and they started shooting at me. A bullet went straight through my leg.
“The tax laws in art make it basically legal to not pay taxes on art. If you’re a serious art buyer, you just get a good tax accountant,” former New York-based art consultant Beth Fiore tells Hopes&Fears. “If you show newly purchased works in certain museums then you never have to pay taxes on it.” Edward Winkleman of Winkleman Gallery maintains that his gallery keeps fastidious records of all transactions and pays taxes even on cash sales. But he admits that, “the state generally wouldn't question what is reported.” He also tells us that individual sales don’t need to be reported, only the totals for each quarter. Hypothetically, someone could buy millions of dollars worth of art without the IRS knowing, and then later sell those works for a “legitimate” profit that looks clean on taxes.
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.
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.).
Initially, the oligarchs used intelligence officers as their personal security guards but Vladimir Putin flipped the system when he came to power in 2000, so that the intelligence services now controlled the oligarchs. The men who had made their fortunes through the privatisation of Russia’s infrastructure and natural resources now faced a choice – to share their cash with Putin’s circle or face the consequences.
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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.
So far, the release of transcripts of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson’s interviews with the House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary committees have provided rich detail to obsessives but few major headlines for the average reader. The interviews give some more clarity on how Fusion came to investigate Donald Trump; who was paying the company; and how it gathered information, but they offer much help in assessing the Trump dossier.

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.)
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Law enforcement officials in the United States and abroad say “Hannibal” is just one of thousands of valuable artworks being used by criminals to hide illicit profits and illegally transfer assets around the globe. As other traditional money-laundering techniques have come under closer scrutiny, smugglers, drug traffickers, arms dealers and the like have increasingly turned to the famously opaque art market, officials say.
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The problem isn’t their argument that seller’s should reveal themselves. It’s the slapdash evidence and flawed logic they use. The story’s biggest problem begins with the lede where it is argued that real estate sellers are transparent. Several graphs deeper in the story it is revealed that real estate transactions that are on a par with major art transactions are, in fact, not transparent. How do we know that? Because the Times tells us about a pilot program that requires transparency. Here’s the opening graph:
Anonymity was certainly a factor in the success of the scam that took down the estimable Knoedler gallery in New York after 165 years in business. Some $80 million was turned over by collectors to purchase unknown, albeit fake, “masterpieces” that were brought to market by a Long Island art dealer and her boyfriend. They said all the work had come from a mystery collector who became known as Mr. X. In fact, they were being created by a forger in his Queens garage.
Open a foreign bank account in a tax haven like Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. Banks in these countries are not required by law to hand over information about your account to anyone without your consent. If you open what's called a “numbered account” in a private Swiss bank like Union Bank of Switzerland or Credit Suisse Group, a number or code name will be associated with the account, rather than your name. To open a numbered account, you will most likely need to travel to Switzerland to do it, though if this is impossible, there are firms that help people set up off-shore bank accounts that can help you. You will most likely need to make an initial deposit of at least $100,000 to open the account, which will cost roughly $300 a year to maintain.
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.
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.
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.
Her tale begins, naturally, with a call at four in the morning from Elena in 2008. "Crying like you cannot imagine, she said, 'Can you please come?' I say, 'Is somebody dead?' She says, 'No, but please come.' So at four I wake up, I get my car, I go to the hotel." There Elena tells her that by accident she came across documents on Dmitry's computer containing the passport information of various guests visiting the Rybolovlev yacht, including many "girls" and Dmitry's mistress at the time. This, Rappo says, was the event that triggered the divorce—Elena filed within weeks. (Inciden- tally, aside from advising Elena to consult a lawyer, Rappo denies hastening the breakup. "I tried for about two years to put them together," she says. It was Dmitry who made reconciliation impossible, she claims: "From the very beginning he said, 'Tell her she will have nothing.' ")
— The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the amount of illicit money that is laundered each year to be between “2 - 5% of global GDP, or $800 billion - $2 trillion in current US dollars.” The difficulty of knowing exact figures accounts for the huge margin within estimates. The UN’s estimates specifically cite “Mega-Byte” as an issue, defining the term as “money in the form of symbols on computer screens the can move anywhere in the world with speed and ease.”
The room is oval and intimate. He sits in an armchair, back to flung-open French doors, the yacht-filled harbor of La Condamine beyond. Curiously, since Rybolovlev is the owner of one of the world's most valuable art collections, not a single work of art is on view. However, books, mainly on business and soccer, line the shelves. When I point out one by Donald Trump, he laughs. "I've never read it," he says. "It was put there by the Candy brothers." I sit on the sofa close to Bersheda, who is going to translate. Rybolovlev's trust in the glamorous, brainy 31-year-old lawyer is obvious. They met six years ago in Geneva, where she worked for a law firm that he had retained. He asked her to work for him and she refused, but subsequently she set up her own firm, of which he is now a major client. She and I met last summer at Art Basel, where she gauged whether he should talk to me.
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.
The Art Business should examine the client’s background and purpose behind the contemplated transaction. For example, are the artworks being sold by the client consistent with what is known about the client’s collection? Is the level at which the client is selling or buying consistent with their past transactions and what is known about their professional activities and personal wealth? If not, the Art Business may want to ask the client for further information.
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