In the tight-knit world of art dealers and mega-buyers, where insider information is the name of the game, Bouvier's case could be prove to be a game changer, as it potentially pits collectors against brokers, putting inherent conflicts of interest in the spotlight. At the same time, Rybolovlev is playing a high-stakes game, as a sophisticated collector and global businessman of his stature is not one who doesn't understand the risks he's taking. His lawyer claims other "victims" of Mr. Bouvier have already approached them, while the embattled King of the free ports believes he will clear his name in a Monaco court. Whatever happens the impact could be permanent.
"I think I can be useful," Rappo says Bouvier told her. Rybolovlev "jumped," she says. "He was really very happy." According to her, the oligarch recognized that Bouvier had some of the best art in the world sitting in his Geneva warehouse. Rybolovlev, for his part, says he scarcely remembers his first meeting with Bouvier, and he took the meeting only because Rappo encouraged him to. He found Bouvier "a regular, likable man," different from the stereotypical smooth-talking art dealer. And because Rappo, whom he trusted "totally," had brought them together, Rybolovlev agreed to work with him for, the oligarch claims, a fee of 2 percent—which Bouvier denies, saying that amount was merely for transport and administrative costs.
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.)
The King free ports, as the Swiss media have dubbed him, Bouvier was embroiled in a similar legal scandal in 2008, when he was connected to a group that tricked an aging collector into selling a piece by Russian-born French artist Chaim Soutine that was then flipped to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. A suite filed by the heirs of Canadian Lorette Jolles Shefner claims she was misled into selling Piece of Beef for $1 million in the Spring of 2004 by two art experts who, a few months later, sold it to the National Gallery for nearly twice the price. Bouvier was "acting in concert [with the experts] to disguise the true ownership" of works of art as part of the fraudulent scheme, court documents revealed.
The theory is that both sides would have something to gain. For Russian oligarchs and mobsters, there’s a need to launder money. “Generally speaking, the patterns of activity that we thought might be suggestive of money laundering were, you know, fast turnover deals and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer,” Simpson told the committee in November. Trump, meanwhile, was in need of liquidity, because many banks were unwilling to do business with him after a corporate bankruptcy, and Russian buyers could provide quick infusions of cash. In other cases, the Trump Organization has appeared to have gone out of its way to avoid doing due diligence on business partners.
When confronted, his company merely says that it’s not involved in any deals beyond licensing a brand name and image. In fact, his blinders about the identity of those backing Trump Towers Baku is a repeat of a 2010 deal in which a state-run Russian bank, which serves as a slush fund for Putin’s projects and is directly overseen by him was indirectly involved in a textbook case of money laundering.
“If you say, I’m going to go after Putin’s cronies, then the Saudis, the Chinese, everyone else who’s investing here can say: ‘she has a spat with us, then we’re the targets. We’re moving our money’. She has to protect the City because she’s about to undertake what I consider to be one of the most misguided steps any government could take, Brexit, which is to threaten above all the City,” he says.
In regards to the critical issue of the source of the funds, the AML Guidelines “encourage” art businesses “to decline payments from a third party who is not their client and buyer of record. If there are legitimate reasons why it is justified for the Art Business to accept payment from a third party, before doing so the Art Business should conduct enhanced due diligence on both their buyer of record and the third party payer[.]” The AML Guidelines also articulate a “preference” for art businesses only “to accept payments from reputable banks in jurisdictions subject to AML regulation and supervision. Such reputable banks and financial institutions are generally subject to a high degree of AML regulation. That said[,] Art Businesses should remain vigilent and not rely entirely on the fact that banks and financial institutions will have carried out the necessary checks and verification to be satisfied that the source of funds is clean.”
It is a very pretentious title, but yeah I was a big-time smuggler. I was very ambitious. It all started to get serious when I went to Russia after Beirut. In Russia the art smugglers all worked together so that they could have their claws in many different countries overseas. So if you were "in the game" and a promising prospect like I probably was and had contacts with one clan, you could have contacts with all the clans. I was involved in a big way because I knew all the people and could reach out to them. I could get to the countries behind the iron curtain. I was also dealing with VIPs. Don't think this was some kind of scumbag organization-we were dealing with people who were very high up on the political ladder. All you had to do was make sure everybody had his cut.
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Of course, beyond AML-related process concerns, any art dealer — just like any business person — always must remember that just about any financial transaction that involves proceeds known to have originated from illegal activity represents a criminal money laundering offense. Stated otherwise, even if the BSA is not expanded to include dealers in art and antiquities, those in the U.S. art industry still need to bear in mind, in extreme examples, the omnipresent federal criminal code. Sometimes, the provenance of the funds can be more critical than the provenance of the art.
The oligarch is dismissing the whole thing as procedural, Bersheda tells me, but Frank Michel, the lawyer who filed charges on behalf of Tania Rappo (close friend-turned-enemy of Rybolovlev) of tampering with police evidence and invasion of privacy tells me it's serious. "Rybolovlev will be charged," Michel says, "and then there will be a trial involving one of the most powerful men here. Monaco has never seen the like."
Borisovich says London’s Russian oligarchs should not be mistaken for conventional, self-made businessmen. “Their riches come from transactions with the Russian government. They either sold something for a fortune to the state of Russia or they bought something for pennies in some sort of privatisation from the state of Russia. Some of them managed to do both, to buy for pennies and sell for fortunes. Some of them never did any of that and they just worked all their life as government officials and somehow in the process became immensely rich,” he says.
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.