Of course, certain countries already impose AML regulations on the art world. The European Union Commission issued its 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive in June 2018, which must be implemented by Member States by January 2020, and which in part expands its coverage of “obliged entities” to persons trading in art, acting as intermediaries in the trade of art, or storing art in freeports, if the value of the transaction or a group of linked transactions equals €10,000 or more. In the United States, although the BSA already applies to dealers in precious metals, stones and jewels, and thereby requires them to file Suspicious Activity Reports and comply with other AML obligations, no such rules currently apply to U.S. dealers in art.
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.
Around 2003 the Rybolovlevs decided to build an art collection—"the best in the world," Dmitry has been quoted as saying. They had recently moved into a house with light fixtures for art displays, and with the help of Rappo they were making inroads among a Western European elite that spent its considerable wealth on art. Rybolovlev soon settled on his first acquisition: Le Grand Cirque, one of Marc Chagall's many beloved circus paintings. (The previous owner of the house, who had left the fixtures, owned a Chagall.) He consulted several dealers, and the best price was $8 million, according to Rappo. However, she came up with a way to eliminate the dealers and buy directly from Le Grand Cirque's owner, lowering the price by more than $2 million—and, pivotally, bringing Rybolovlev into contact with Yves Bouvier.
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.
Over the last decade, economic forces on a global scale have overrun the art world—visibly to all, in the case of the gargantuan bids casually tossed out at the evening sales, but all but imperceptibly (except to a tiny and in-the-know elite) in other areas—and no one has been more at the center of it, or better epitomized its drive for concealment, than the canny Bouvier. In Switzerland a business owned by Bouvier's family, Natural Le Coultre, is one of the country's oldest transporters of goods, formerly of all kinds but since the 2000s of fine art exclusively. The shift in strategy was not coincidental. As the Economist and others have pointed out, "collectibles [such as art] have outperformed stocks over the past decade," aided in part by the world's string of financial crises. In fact, for some ultra-wealthy individuals art has become the asset of choice, for not only does a Modigliani nude hold or increase its value, it is an easy asset to move or hide.
You always have to be a step ahead of them. Most of them you could pay off, but some you couldn't. I was cocky. I would show off in their faces sometimes. It was stupidity, but I saw the news of my smuggling in the papers and I liked it, it showed them I could still do it even though they were after me. Also I'd travel on fake passports and change my appearance. Instead of blue eyes I'd change them to brown with contacts, I'd dye my hair blonde... all those corny tricks. At that time they worked.
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.
Creating and maintaining hundreds of LLCs to ostensibly do the same thing, like build hotels, condos, and homes, adds millions in bureaucratic overhead from payroll to tax filings. It wouldn’t be an issue if Trump ran a dozen corporations specializing in each vertical of his business, so having multiple companies under one umbrella is not at all unusual. Having so many doing the same things, however, is typically the same kind of warning sign for money laundering as being constantly told to recruit new salespeople is to pyramid schemes.
Finally, under Guideline 6, the AML Guidelines provides that art businesses must maintain adequate records of their due diligence efforts. Perhaps stating the obvious, but perhaps also implicitly acknowledging the existence of practices by certain dealers, the AML Guidelines observe that “[a]ll documents issued by an Art Business in connection with a transaction (e.g. valuations, sale and purchase agreements, invoices, shipping documents, import / export declarations etc.) should be true, accurate and contemporaneous and represent the honestly held professional opinions of the Art Business.” Likewise, dealers “should refuse all requests from clients to alter, back date, falsify or otherwise provide incomplete or misleading documentation or information relating to a transaction. If there are legitimate reasons for altering a document (e.g. invoicing error etc.) the circumstances and justification should be fully documented and retained on file for future reference and audit.”
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.
Until then Rybolovlev, who is known for a certain froideur, had always avoided discussing his art collection, which includes masterpieces by Picasso, Leonardo, Rothko, Gauguin, Matisse, and Rodin. But he had begun to wonder, he says, whether he had been overpaying the man in charge of his acquisitions, and he was beginning to feel a gnawing anxiety familiar to major collectors—namely, that he was not in the driver's seat of a collection purchased in his name. Art world middlemen—whether private dealers, art advisers, or people seeking a commission for setting up a deal—hold disproportionate power in this incestuous industry, which is largely unregulated and in which enormous deals frequently take place with little paperwork and behind closed doors. Often these middlemen know crucial elements of a deal that their billionaire patrons don't, such as the selling price of a
The Harriman Institute strives to facilitate the effective use of the unique resources it possesses to further the work of the diverse community of scholars in residence, students and the more than 60 faculty members who make up the Harriman Institute faculty. Taken together, the library collections of Columbia and the New York Public Library constitute the single largest concentration of Russian-language materials in the country. Moreover, the numerous resources of New York City—the U.N. missions, the many foundations and societies based in the city, the wealth of museums, special collections and archives, to name just a few—ideally complement those of Columbia University.
Rybolovlev has turned up the legal pressure on Bouvier. Beyond getting him arrested in Monaco, the oligarch’s legal team, headed by Tetiana Bersheda, got Singapore’s High Court to impose a $500 million freeze on Bouvier's assets, his MEI Invest Limited, and supposed accomplice Tania Rappo. In Geneva, public prosecutor Jean-Bernanrd Schmid conducted a search in Natural Le Coultre’s headquarters and a gallery looking for documents related to the Modigliani and Da Vinci transactions. Rybolovlev is operating through the two holding companies that own the art collection, Accent Delight International and Xitrans Finance.
Francis Morland was one of Britain’s most talented young artists, a contemporary of David Hockney and Peter Blake and a leading member of the 1960s “New Generation” movement. At the same time he lived an even more remarkable secret life as the biggest drug trafficker in the UK. He stuffed his abstract sculptures full of Lebanese cannabis to ship to the lucrative American market, moved yachtloads of Moroccan hashish to Europe, and years before Howard Marks, became the country’s first recognised drug baron.
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.
He soon joined Ekaterina and Elena in Geneva. However, in their new home, despite their vast wealth, the Rybolovlevs were isolated. Although Elena eventually learned to speak fluent French, her husband "was always distracted by business. I couldn't clear my mind," he says. One of the first friends they made was Tania Rappo, the wife of their dentist, who happened to mention that his wife spoke Russian. (Rappo comes from Bulgaria, where the language is spoken by about a third of the population.)