Most of these industries have checks. Real estate titles and deeds at least require a name. Mortgage brokers, stockbrokers, casinos, banks and Western Union must report suspicious financial activity to the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Banks must report all transactions of $10,000 or more. Altogether, the network logs more than 15 million currency transactions each year that can be used to track dirty money, said Steve Hudak, a spokesman for the agency. The art market lacks these safeguards. Roll up a canvas and it is easy to stash or move between countries; prices can be raised or lowered by millions of dollars in a heartbeat; and the names of buyers and sellers tend to be guarded zealously, leaving law enforcement to guess who was involved, where the money came from and whether the price was suspicious.
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)
The following year, in 2013, an even more high-profile laundering case surfaced when a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting worth $8 million was found in a crate at Kennedy Airport on its way from London. 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. In 2004, Ferreira went $1 billion in debt after his financial empire, much of which was built on embezzled funds, collapsed. During his reign over Banco Santos, he had bought 12,000 pieces of art. In 2006, Ferreira was sentenced to 21 years in prison for bank fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. But before his arrest, $30 million of his art collection was smuggled out of Brazil. The scheme was uncovered when Hannibal was found at JFK. According to court papers, the painting was originally bought for $1 million in 2004 by a Panamanian company called Broadening-Info Enterprises, which was later discovered to be owned by Ferreira’s wife, Márcia.
If the BSA is extended to apply to dealers in art and antinquities, FinCEN can expect a robust notice and comment period for the implementing regulations. Further, when proposing such regulations, FinCEN might draw upon some existing AML guidelines for the art trade, including those from two not-for-profit groups — one independent, the other supported by industry. We explore those guidelines in the rest of this post.
"[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.
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.
Schiff accused Republicans who have circulated the memo of carrying water for the White House. “It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of false statements and misleading representations,” he said, and argued that the report sought to mislead the public, relying on the expectation that the classified information that underpins and contextualizes it would never be made public.
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.
“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.
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Further, and as noted, other traditional vehicles for laundering money have become less attractive, thereby driving those who need a mechanism to launder large sums into the arms of the art world. As we repeatedly have blogged, one of the most time-honored and relatively convenient vehicles for laundering — real estate — is under intense scrutiny and now is subject in the U.S. to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”)’s ongoing Geographic Targeting Orders (these require U.S. title insurance companies in many parts of the U.S. to identify the natural persons behind legal entities used in purchases of residential real estate involving $300,000 or more and performed without a bank loan or similar form of external financing).