Michel: Well, by the time I was 15 I had been kicked out of seven schools. I must have been ADHD or whatever, because I fucking hated school and was always looking to start something for myself. So I began importing cheap hippie coats from Istanbul. They were basically sheepskins turned inside out with some sleeves on them. I began selling them in this hashish bar in Holland. They sold like fucking hotcakes. So I was going up and down between Istanbul and Holland quite a lot. Business was going well, and I was eventually approached in Istanbul by a man named E.

Of course that’s why money laundering exists. One of the simplest ways to do it is to create a web of offshore companies strategically located in countries that don’t ask a lot of questions about where the money came from, but are just happy to take their cut. Many are the usual suspects in the Caribbean, but other favorites include the Seychelles, Cook Islands — which are now being called the Crook Islands by the natives thanks to their sudden surge in popularity as an offshore destination — and of course, Cyprus, which is heavily favored by Russians.
Other valuable customers for the auction houses and dealers were Malaysian businessmen who, beginning in 2013, bought more than $200 million in art, usually operating as the Tanore Finance Corporation, including eight works at Christie’s. The United States government contends in a civil complaint that the art was purchased with money that had been embezzled from Malaysian government accounts and that the ultimate beneficiary was Jho Low, one of the businessmen. Mr. Low, who has denied any wrongdoing, has not been criminally charged.
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)
Over the years Bouvier has shifted his core business from art transportation to building and operating vast, secretive high-tech fortresses used for storing not just artworks but cars, wine, coins, and furniture. Such repositories, known as free ports, have existed for centuries, but until quite recently their primary purpose was to hold raw materials in transit—a shipment of soybeans, say. They were found primarily in transit zones, such as airports and canals, and they usually enjoyed one of the benefits of existence at the jurisdictional margins: tax and duty freedom.
In fact Trump named Wilbur Ross, the former vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, as his commerce secretary. That bank was involved in deals involving Putin’s inner circle in 2015, and incidentally, Rybolovlev had a 9.9% stake in the bank until 2013, after which he divested for undisclosed reasons. It’s very possible that Ross actually has no role in any of this as former employees say he actually drove Russian oligarchs from the bank over his tenure, and the offshores were only used for a failed bid to build a casino.
After that I knew there were a lot of stolen Nok pieces that were going to be exhibited at a gallery in London-all worth around $400,000-sold to some of the wealthiest people in the world. I could've easily made a lot of money for myself by approaching the dealer and saying, "Give me 100 grand to keep my mouth shut about where they came from," and I would've gotten it in a nanosecond. But instead I went to the Nigerian embassy and convinced the ambassador there about these stolen Nok pieces.
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.
"It's easy for [Bouvier and Rappo] to paint me as the stereotypical Russian oligarch," he says. But if he were so interested in hiding his assets from Elena, he says, why would he announce to the world that he had been the victim of a multibillion-dollar scam, in the process letting it be known how much his trusts had overpaid for each of his artworks?

Los Angeles-based editor of Politech, ex-Soviet computer lobotomist. Specializes in, but not limited to, science, AI, the web, conspiracy theories, and statistics. His work has been featured in or mentioned by How Stuff Works, BusinessWeek, Discovery News/Seeker, The Shift With Drex, Le Monde, SEED, Bad Astronomy, Science To The People, i09, and RawStory, among others.


I'm trying to think of the creative way to do this. I mean, as you may know, you know, most of these transactions are cleared through New York. And the other sort of central place for information is SWIFT in Brussels. But I would go for the clearing banks in New York that cleared the transactions, you know. And there's—again, it's these sort of intermediary entities that have no real interest in protecting the information, and all you have to do is ask for it and they just sort of produced by rote. So we've done a lot of money laundering investigations where we go to the trust companies and the clearing entities. And so, you know, all dollar transactions are generally cleared through New York. So, you know, the main thing you have to do is identify the banks that were used.
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.
Schiff, however, has long been interested in the idea. “The allegation that concerns me most is ... the issue of money laundering, and not money laundering alone by Mr. Manafort but whether the Russians also laundered money through the Trump Organization,” he told me in October. “I mention that because when most people think of kompromat, they think of the salacious video. But if the Russians were laundering money... that would be a very powerful lever the Russians would have over the president of the United States.”
"It's easy for [Bouvier and Rappo] to paint me as the stereotypical Russian oligarch," he says. But if he were so interested in hiding his assets from Elena, he says, why would he announce to the world that he had been the victim of a multibillion-dollar scam, in the process letting it be known how much his trusts had overpaid for each of his artworks?

Scott has lectured and presented extensively regarding cybersecurity and corporate espionage at numerous conferences around the globe. He has recently overseen the development of several cell phone detection tools used to enforce a “no cell phone policy” in correctional, law enforcement, and secured government facilities. He is regularly interviewed for leading national publications, and major network television stations including Fox, Bloomberg, Good Morning America, CNN, CCTV, CNBC, & MSNBC. He is the author of "Hacked Again" and writes, "In a modern digital world no one is safe from being hacked, not even a renown cybersecurity expert."
But his suspicion was not triggered until Bouvier came to Rybolovlev in 2013 and 2014 to shop two paintings, first Salvator Mundi, a recently discovered Leonardo for which he wanted $127 million, and then No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red), a prized Rothko for which he requested $140 million. Rybolovlev told Bouvier that the family trusts would pay for the Rothko only in installments while Bouvier sold other works, including a Modigliani sculpture Rybolovlev had owned since 2012. Bouvier seemed to have trouble finding a buyer for the Modigliani—or "anything!" Rybolovlev says.
"It's easy for [Bouvier and Rappo] to paint me as the stereotypical Russian oligarch," he says. But if he were so interested in hiding his assets from Elena, he says, why would he announce to the world that he had been the victim of a multibillion-dollar scam, in the process letting it be known how much his trusts had overpaid for each of his artworks?
But given his recent history of making splashy but unsupported claims, it’s difficult to grant Nunes the benefit of the doubt. In the spring, he made a series of extremely serious allegations against the Obama administration, including improper surveillance of Trump aides. No proof of those allegations emerged, and the Justice Department has since said there was no surveillance. It soon became clear that Nunes was receiving information from White House staffers (who have since been pushed out of the White House), even as he was overseeing an ostensibly independent investigation into the president.

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."
Chagall's Le Grand Cirque was stored in the Geneva free port, and Rybolovlev took Rappo with him to view it. Rappo has since said that she remembers that Bouvier appeared in person to greet them and was attentive. Rybolovlev claims to barely recall this. "If he had approached me, I would not have wanted to know him," he says, citing his habit of shying away from anyone trying to solicit his business.
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.
So, with the help of a girlfriend who speaks better English, the potentate asked Heller, "What price did you sell it for?" The answer: $93 million, $25 million less than Rybolovlev's trusts had paid for it. Chuckling, Rybolovlev tells me his fellow diners at the Eden Rock "thought I was having a stroke." Less cheerfully he says it was the worst New Year's Eve of his life. Within minutes he was on the phone to Bersheda. For years, according to Rybolovlev, he believed he had been paying the middleman who had sold him the Modigliani (above)—as well as 37 other museum-worthy paintings—a commission of 2 percent (in other words, about $2 million for the Modigliani, not $25 million). He was now realizing every collector's worst fear: He had been fleeced, and the question was, for how long and how much?
Buried treasure, mysterious deaths, looting, forged documents, secretive Swiss bank vaults and shadowy intermediaries. This is not a description of a Dan Brown thriller. It’s real life: the trade in illegally exported antiquities. As prices soar into the millions of dollars for the top pieces, so does the incentive to dig up treasures in Italy, Greece, Turkey and farther afield, pass them to “runners” who will sneak them illegally across borders, store them in a Swiss vault and then quietly slip them into the trade. The players in this murky world can make a fortune, but this is a dangerous game.
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.
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.
What happened afterward is important, because whatever their disagreements, Rybolovlev and Bouvier agree that the nature of their relationship—whether Bouvier was an agent working for Rybolovlev on a commission basis or an independent art dealer who bought and sold works for himself, freeing him to charge any markup he liked—was never codified on paper. Rappo says that shortly after their encounter at the Geneva free port, Bouvier called her to ask her to arrange a follow-up meeting.

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.


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.
And then Rybolovlev found out about a New York Times article he had missed from months earlier reporting that the Leonardo he had purchased for $127.5 million had been sold not long before for only $75 million to $80 million. The piece also stated that many experts thought the work had been done by an assistant in Leonardo's studio, not the artist himself.

Briefly: On New Year's Eve 2014, Rybolovlev found himself at the Eden Rock St. Bart's eating with Sandy Heller, a New York art consultant who advises many hedge fund managers. Somewhat obliquely Heller said, "It looks like you bought the Modigliani [we sold]." He was referring to Reclining Nude with Blue Cushion, one of the artist's most famous canvases, painted in 1917. The painting had belonged to Steven A. Cohen, the founder of SAC Capital Advisors and also one of the richest men in the world.
The anonymity of buyers is also a huge advantage for criminals. Who hasn’t seen the images of an art auction for a famous painting at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, where brokers are on the phone with mysterious clients? Art market operators generally refuse to disclose the identities of their clients under the guise of “protecting the integrity of the transactions.”

The AML Standards for Art Market Operators (“AML Standards”) are set forth by the Basel Institute on Governance, an independent not-for-profit organization.  Not surprisingly, the AML Standards adopt a “risk based” approach to establishing measures to mitigate money laundering risks, and further note that “[s]mall businesses may not have the resources to address money-laundering risks in the same way that large auction houses or major dealers and galleries will have, and may have a different risk exposure.”  The AML Standards are intended to apply to everone trading in art objects, and intermediaries between buyers and sellers.  They also suggest that service industries supprting the trade in art objects that are already subject to AML laws, like financial institutions, should identify their clients and customers in the art trade “as higher risk as long as there are no internationally applicable standards.”

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