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 anecdote about Steve Cohen’s Modigliani comes straight out of the criminal complaint received on January 12, 2015 by Monaco’s Palais de Justice, and was confirmed by source close to the matter. While Bouvier may not be a household name in the U.S., the accusations and ensuing arrest reverberated across the European art market, where Bouvier runs a set of luxury warehouses across Geneva, Luxembourg, and Singapore where the world’s billionaires store their art, along with jewels, fine wines, and other luxury goods legally in tax-free zones.
To sum up, the Times muddles the very different issues of ensuring the integrity of works of art—the authenticity question—which is real and requires an entity that can work with owners who want to maintain their anonymity for legitimate reasons with the issue of beneficial ownership—which is less pressing with art because it is relatively rare and covered by the parallel system of KYC run by the banks the auction houses rely upon to vouch for their clients’ ability to afford the works they want to buy.
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So the first thing that I would do would be to subpoena the brokers and the people, the other people that were involved in the transactions, and the title companies and the other intermediaries that would have that kind of information. Then I would go to the banks next. But I actually think some of the intermediary entities in a lot of these transactions are going to be where a lot of the information is….
Well, I'd been on the run and was eventually arrested at my villa in Marbella.I knew one of the Italian godfathers of the mafia who also has a villa there. We are great friends. So within ten minutes of being arrested, his counsellor was in my cell. He said, "Felice cannot come but he sent you his kind regards," so then I was sent to Madrid where I dined with a very important member of the police. He arranged for me to go to prison there instead of being extradited to France where they were really after me. I had the best time of my life in jail [in Madrid]. I had the guarantee I was coming out in a year and I bought a cell phone from one of the ETA boys in there. It was like that movie Goodfellas. I had my own kitchen, my own shower, and every day I could bribe one of the guards to go to the market-it was fantastic.
In the early 2000s, Brazilian financier Edmar Cid Ferreira had embezzled funds from his business empire — and he needed a way to hide the money. He found it in Hannibal, a painting by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Appraised by the art world at $8 million, Ferreira showed up at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2007 with the painting and a bill of lading listing the value as $100.
There is no comparable entity in the art market. But were the same type of program instituted in the art market, it would only require that the auction house, dealer or lawyer know the beneficial owner and be able to reveal that information to federal authorities. It would not require the other side of the transaction to learn the seller (or buyer’s) identity.
The billionaire, who is only 48, has in his lifetime faced down murder attempts, a year's imprisonment in Russia, a divorce ("the world's most expensive") so nasty it involved the arrest of his now ex-wife, and now is embroiled in the art scandal of the year, in which he claims he was duped for well over $1 billion by intermediaries he trusted. This is the case that's riding towards trial in Monte Carlo and in which he's been accused of evidence manipulation. (He denies this.)
He told Swiss publication Le Temps that Rybolovlev owes his company “tens of millions of euros,” while claiming that the oligarch set him up after failing to cough up the cash for Rothko’s No. 6 – Violet, Green, and Red. “[Rybolovlev] couldn’t pay the balance of the last painting he bought from my company, the most beautiful Rothko in the world.” Invited by the buyer to chat, Bouvier “fell into an ambush” as he was detained and handcuffed by eight police officers.
For the collector who sees his 1961 Petrus not as something to drink but as an asset to hoard and potentially sell, Bouvier offered an invaluable service. Items could not only be stored behind the free port's seven-ton doors, surrounded by laser trip wires and vibration detectors, they could be shown to other collectors there and traded or sold without moving an inch—and taxed only if they left the free port. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of all is that such transactions could take place beyond the prying eyes of a district attorney or a private investigator tracking down assets in a divorce battle. (As a result, many in the art world worry about a tendency for free ports to become "art cemeteries." The world's largest free port, at Geneva Airport, is said to hold as much art as the Louvre.)
Perhaps the most interesting thread is Simpson’s suggestion that the Trump Organization could have been used by Russians to launder money—an arrangement that would have both allowed Kremlin-linked figures to scrub cash and would have created possible blackmail material over the now-president, since the Russian government would be aware that a crime had been committed.
Bouvier, of course, denies all accusations, claiming to have found out about the complaint as he was arrested. An art market insider explained to Forbes that it’s common for intermediaries to take their cut directly from the selling price, which in most cases isn’t illegal, unless certain conditions are violated. Forbes reached out to three different lawyers connected with Bouvier (David Bitton, Luc Brossollet, and Charles Lecuyer) but wasn’t able to get a response.
"To put the mother of your two children in prison just not to give her money—what kind of person is that?" Rappo says. "This is the style of Mr. Rybolovlev, and that's exactly what happened to us. He wants to humiliate people and put such stress on them that they give up." (Rybolovlev brushes all this off and says Elena cannot stand to hear Tania Rappo's name.) I put it to Rappo: Why would Rybolovlev target her and Bouvier if not for the money he says they owe him?
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.
The debate about anonymity in the art world has intensified over the past year, fed in part by the release of the so-called Panama Papers, which detailed the use of corporate veils to conceal ownership, dodge taxes and enable crime, its authors say. Now various expert groups, like the Basel Institute, are coming forward with ways for dealers and auction houses to curb secrecy and combat money laundering. In a significant change, Christie’s said last week it has strengthened its policy in recent months and now requires agents looking to sell a work through the auction house to tell it the name of the owner they represent.
“And this doesn’t just apply to the Russians. This is a general cultural thing whereby anyone with money is encouraged to come here. You can effectively buy residency. You’ve got non-dom status, which is very attractive, you’ve got the anonymous companies where beneficial ownership remains hidden, so to this day we have around 100,000 properties in this country whose owners are unknown.”
Last year, when she found out Elena had been arrested, she says she got nervous; she calls the event a turning point in her relationship with Dmitry. (If so, Rybolovlev says he didn't notice—Rappo still showed up for events he held.) The arrest had taken place during a visit to Cyprus, where Rybolovlev has considerable financial assets, including at one time a large stake in the country's biggest bank. Rappo says Rybolovlev told her, "There are three places in the world I can do whatever I want. One is Cyprus, one is Skorpios, and the other is Monaco." And she claims he had Elena arrested—even though she spent only a short while in custody—to scare her into dropping her lawsuits (filed in several countries) in pursuit of her ex-husband's money.
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.