The looting and illicit export of art treasures is not a new problem. It’s happened whenever there have been armed conflicts during which victorious troops plundered churches, temples and other buildings. Germany carried out massive looting in World War II. By the start of the 21st Century the trade in illicit antiquities had become so huge it was worth billions of dollars each year and was the biggest international crime outside drug and arms trafficking according to The New York Times. When a piece is stolen, the consequence for scholars is tragic, because essential information about the piece – where it was found, what else was with it – is lost forever.
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.”
Like most laundering cases involving art in the United States, this one was uncovered when the work was illegally transported into the country. In 2004 Mr. Ferreira’s financial empire, built partly on embezzled funds, collapsed, leaving $1 billion in debts. A court in São Paulo sentenced him in 2006 to 21 years in prison for bank fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, a conviction he is appealing. Before his arrest, however, more than $30 million of art owned by Mr. Ferreira and his wife, Márcia, was smuggled out of Brazil, Judge De Sanctis said.
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.)
According to former art consultant Beth Fiore, people don’t normally buy art with cash in the US; “Cash payments for art happen in Russia [and the] Middle East” more often. So if you’re keeping your fortune under your mattress and don’t live in either of those places, you’ll need to get your money into a bank account without alerting the authorities. One way to do that is by smurfing. Despite the mental image of a blue cartoon character riding a surfboard that you may have conjured, smurfing means depositing money into a bank account or several bank accounts by breaking it up in to many small amounts that are deposited at different times, by different people. US banks must report any deposits over $10,000 to the IRS, so in order to stay sneaky, you’ll need to make a series of deposits that are less than that amount. You can hire “smurfs” to help you, who are often ordinary people willing to make an extra buck by opening up a joint bank account in their name, that you or your company has access to, and depositing money into it every day.
Philip Byler, Broadening’s lawyer in New York, said that the inaccurate invoices were merely a shortsighted attempt by the art dealer that Broadening hired to save importation fees. “It was not done with the intention of smuggling,” he said. He also challenged the Brazilian authorities’ claim, saying that “Hannibal” was legally purchased from a company owned by Mr. Ferreira’s wife.
Edward Winkleman tells us that “transfer of title for digital art happens with an invoice. The collector generally receives a certificate of authenticity, which is required if they ever want to resell or donate the work to a museum. The artwork could indeed be delivered digitally, and payment could indeed be received digitally, but the bank records will show the transaction.”
Though relations between the Republican and Democratic members of the intelligence committee remain contentious, they seem to have improved since Chairman Devin Nunes stepped aside from the investigation amidst a bizarre escapade, in which the White House appeared to be feeding Nunes claims of ethical lapses by the Obama administration in handling intelligence information.
Sotheby’s declined to comment on whether it believed Mr. Bouvier to be the owner. But it says it knew him very well as a customer and that he had represented to them that he had the legal right to sell the property. As to its policy of learning the identity of ultimate owners, Sotheby’s said it takes a risk-based approach — sometimes requiring disclosure depending on the specific facts and circumstances of each situation.
It was, but things changed later when I went to the Jos Plateau in Nigeria. I saw these incredible Nok terracotta heads that they bury in the graves for their ancestors. They were potentially million-dollar pieces and I was there to buy them. But then I met the people-the Jos Plateau is very cold at night so we sat around campfires-and they hardly had anything to eat, yet they sit up all night to protect their ancestor's culture from vultures who want to come and dig and steal and kill to get the terracottas. That touches your heart. You can't deal with those things. You don't want to have people dying for art. It was all just a game, but then I was on top of that hill and suddenly confronted with reality. If that doesn't change you, you aren't a human being.
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.
Price fluidity is one of the key advantages of using artwork for money laundering. Coupled with a lack of a regulatory body authorized to oversee the value of art, pricing art is effectively a free-for-all. For example, after 9/11, Americans yearned for nostalgia, including Norman Rockwell paintings. Some of his folksy paintings tripled in value — from $15 million in 2006 to $45 million seven years later.
When addressing the KYC procedures under Guideline 3, the AML Guidelines explain that establishing a client’s risk profile will require an art business to obtain information on the client; understand the purpose and intended nature of the transaction; and understand the client’s source of wealth and how they acquired their art collection. The AML Guidelines also stress the need to identify beneficial ownership, “even if the contracting client raises confidentiality concerns,” and note that the art business “may also choose to include appropriate warranties and representations in their agreements with their clients to emphasise the importance of this point.” Further, art businesses should peform due diligence on intermediaries, such as art advisors or brokers, acting for one of the parties to a transaction.