Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev had decided to send off a tough 2014 in New York City. The Monaco-based billionaire had been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after a Swiss judge awarded his ex-wife Elena $4.5 billion in their seven-year divorce battle. An avid art collector, Rybolovlev decided to spend New Year’s Eve with Sandy Heller, Steve Cohen’s well-known art adviser. As they exchanged war stories, one particular tale made his jaw drop: it was about a beautiful Nude by Italian artist Amadeo Modigliani that Cohen sold for a juicy $93.5 million to a mystery buyer. What Heller didn’t know was that behind the veil of anonymity stood Rybolovlev, fuming internally on that December 31. Rybolovlev had paid his trusted friend and art broker Yves Bouvier $118 million for the piece, more than $22 million above what he just found out the market value should've been, including the fee. Not one to sit around, the oligarch went for the jugular, filing a criminal complaint in the Principality of Monaco for fraud and money laundering only nine days later. In what promises to be the biggest art scandal of 2015, Bouvier was ambushed by eight police officers who took him into custody this February, tricked by Rybolovlev himself as they were set to discuss payment terms for a masterpiece by Mark Rothko. He’s currently out on bail.
On April 2nd, the New Directions in Anti-Kleptocracy Forum, organized by the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, will identify emerging issue areas relating to kleptocracy. I am excited to be serving as a co-panelist on the forum’s Art Market as a Node of Kleptocracy panel, which will discuss beneficial ownership and the luxury art market. Money Laundering Watch recently addressed the relationship between art and money laundering, a topic of growing interest.

The data also shows payments to talent agencies, in London and California. The Laundromat was used to book artists on tours of Russia. They include the Florida rock band the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Israeli singer-songwriter Yoav. Both played in Moscow and St Petersburg in the autumn of 2013. There is no suggestion the artists were aware of the scheme.
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.
Pieces started filtering onto the London art market in the 1980s and a British aristocrat, the Marquess of Northampton, formed a consortium to buy 14 of them, along with the late Peter Wilson, at the time chairman of Sotheby’s. Forged documents from Lebanon were produced to give a provenance to the treasure, and it was put up for sale in New York in 1990 at a price of $50m. However immediately three countries – Hungary, Croatia and Lebanon – claimed the cache as being from their territories. The works were hurriedly withdrawn from sale.
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"[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.
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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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