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I'm not going to bullshit you. Single shipments from Russia were between one and three million, which in the 60s was a lot of money. And these were regular trips-twice a month. It was raining money so I made my base in Beirut. Moneywise Beirut was a free banking market, so you could exchange a million dollars completely open on the square and no one would ask any questions. Of course you had to play the cat and mouse game with Interpol.

The United States similarly requires all cash transactions of $10,000 or more to be reported. Still, laundering involving art tends to be handled case by case. Federal prosecutors, who usually discover art-related laundering through suspicious banking activity or illegal transport across borders, have worked closely with other countries and aggressively used their powers under civil law to confiscate art that they can establish is linked to a crime, even in the absence of a criminal conviction.
— The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the amount of illicit money that is laundered each year to be between “2 - 5% of global GDP, or $800 billion - $2 trillion in current US dollars.” The difficulty of knowing exact figures accounts for the huge margin within estimates. The UN’s estimates specifically cite “Mega-Byte” as an issue, defining the term as “money in the form of symbols on computer screens the can move anywhere in the world with speed and ease.”
The following year, in 2013, an even more high-profile laundering case surfaced when a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting worth $8 million was found in a crate at Kennedy Airport on its way from London. The crate went through customs with a valuation of $100, though it contained Basquiat’s 1982 painting Hannibal (commodities valued under $200 aren’t required to be declared at customs.) The painting had been bought and shipped by Brazilian Banker Edemar cid Ferreira in an elaborate scheme to launder over $50 million that was illegally obtained when Ferreira’s bank, Banco Santos, went bankrupt. In 2004, Ferreira went $1 billion in debt after his financial empire, much of which was built on embezzled funds, collapsed. During his reign over Banco Santos, he had bought 12,000 pieces of art. In 2006, Ferreira was sentenced to 21 years in prison for bank fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. But before his arrest, $30 million of his art collection was smuggled out of Brazil. The scheme was uncovered when Hannibal was found at JFK. According to court papers, the painting was originally bought for $1 million in 2004 by a Panamanian company called Broadening-Info Enterprises, which was later discovered to be owned by Ferreira’s wife, Márcia.
While the US art market remains relatively unregulated, organizations across the globe are taking steps to hold dealers accountable for reporting illegal activity. In February of 2013, the European Commission passed ordinances that require European galleries to report sales above 7,500 euros paid in cash, as well as file suspicious-transaction reports. And in the beginning of this year, a forum was held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in which economist Nouriel Roubini, among others, spoke on the art market’s susceptibility to laundering and other economic crimes like tax avoidance and evasion. “Anybody can walk into a gallery and spend half a million dollars and nobody is going to ask any questions," said Roubini according to Swiss Info.
But while Simpson saw disturbing patterns, he was unable to nail anything down, because he couldn’t get the relevant records from banks and other financial institutions. Schiff posed an interesting question: Simpson didn’t have subpoena power, but the committee did. Who should it subpoena if it wanted to learn more? Simpson laid out a roadmap for Schiff:

Rybolovlev says he did not know what was going to happen to Rappo or Bouvier. "I didn't know the police would arrest them then," he says in answer to their accusations of a sting at Rybolovlev's apartment. The police had asked him to act normal, he claims, but "I needed vodka to get through it." Rappo, he says, was her usual, effervescent self, chattering about the beauty of the Rothko and pressuring Rybolovlev to buy it.
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.
When you sell your home the paperwork details the sale, including your name, and the title search lists the names of the people who owned the property before you. But when someone sells an artwork at auction — even something worth $100 million, much more than your house — the identity is typically concealed.  […] In finance, Treasury officials last year began asking banks to identify customers who set up accounts in names of shell companies. In real estate, they introduced a pilot program that requires the full identification of people who buy expensive properties in New York and Miami using cash and shell companies.

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.


“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.”

He hasn't given many interviews over the past six years, but I managed to track him down for a chat. After learning I did a bit of unlicensed boxing before becoming a journalist, Michel took a liking to me, as he is a fighter himself. He once had so many contracts on his head that Scotland Yard detectives allegedly placed bets on how long he had left to live before he was murdered by a hitman.

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In March 2014, Bonhams withdrew a 2,000-year old Assyrian stele estimated at £600,000-£800,000  ($1m-$1.3m) and which was slated for auction on 3 April. The broken stone slab depicting a praying king – and containing a curse in cuneiform which would fall on anyone removing it from its site – was suspected of being looted from eastern Syria at an unknown date. The top half of the slab has been in the British Museum since the late 19th Century. Bonhams says that its piece was withdrawn for “further study”.

Art Businesses should also consider the form of the transaction, such as whether the transaction is taking place through intermediaries, face to face, entirely via the Internet, over the phone, or by any other similar non face to face means. In some circumstances, depending on the nature, value and/or geographic location of the transaction, enhanced due diligence may be appropriate.

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