Happy with my work, the next time he took me to Armenia. He was smuggling of course, and when we got there we had drinks with the chief of police. There was a big organization bringing in lots of pieces from Moscow and Leningrad. The Russians and the Armenians were like mafia clans. They were very well-organized and working together. From there we took a bunch of art and flew to Beirut-the customs there were in on the game. We paid them off. That was basically the first time I smuggled on a large scale.
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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
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.
In the movie-funding case, the scheme involved several participants, 10 countries, mislabeling transactions as “gifts” and “donations,” disguising the origins of the funds, and offshore shell companies. One letter stated that a transfer of $800 million from a Saudi prince to Razak was a “donation.” The head of the criminal operation used correspondent banks to transfer the funds in dollars.
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.
Bonhams and Christie’s say that they had done research on their pieces, but were hampered by Italian authorities’ refusal to make the photographic database available to auction houses: “While we have a careful due diligence process in all other respects we have no way, without the co-operation of the Carabinieri, of checking this particular database. This case illustrates why that co-operation would be helpful,” said a spokesperson for Christie’s. As for the Roman statue, it was put on display in a New York art fair last year – but failed to sell. The US authorities are hoping to return it to Italy.

The bank bought an $850 million stake in a Ukrainian steel mill through a mystery middleman, then sold it to Russian-Canadian investor Alexander Shaider. This investor who would then fund Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto, and pay the consulting and licensing fees to label it a Trump property and bring it under The Donald’s umbrella in the public eye. In fact, this is how Trump’s name ended up on so many buildings. It’s licensed while its true owners are out of sight, and out of mind.
But what we’re seeing is a pattern of Trump in the midst of wealthy foreigners engaged in money laundering schemes that center around real estate, and not bothering to vet any of them before doing business. Furthermore, there’s also the fact that he proudly claims to be the owner of more than 500 companies with very complex finances, which is a massive red flag in this context.
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.

It is a very pretentious title, but yeah I was a big-time smuggler. I was very ambitious. It all started to get serious when I went to Russia after Beirut. In Russia the art smugglers all worked together so that they could have their claws in many different countries overseas. So if you were "in the game" and a promising prospect like I probably was and had contacts with one clan, you could have contacts with all the clans. I was involved in a big way because I knew all the people and could reach out to them. I could get to the countries behind the iron curtain. I was also dealing with VIPs. Don't think this was some kind of scumbag organization-we were dealing with people who were very high up on the political ladder. All you had to do was make sure everybody had his cut.
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Both Bouvier and Rappo would deny the charges, hire lawyers, and spend the following months telling their stories to the media. Bouvier's defense was simple: Yes, he had charged astronomical markups to his client, but, as he told Vanity Fair, "I did not act as intermediary but as the owner [of the art]. I had a right to a profit; it's the law of busi- ness." (Bouvier refused to answer questions for this article.)

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….
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.
A major player in the art world, Bouvier is well-known for operating free ports in Geneva, Luxembourg, and Singapore. Through his Natural Le Coultre, they are the largest art operator in Geneva with a 22,000 square meter state-of-the-art facility that offers art storage, transport, and favorable tax conditions, and sometimes no taxes at all. At Geneva, reports indicate warehouses hold $100 billion worth of art essentially beyond the taxman's eyes. Bouvier was also behind €150 million arts-park named R4 in Paris, and was also courting the Chinese government to set up a freeport in Beijing.

Look, I've been shot at on three separate occasions, I've had guns on my head, I've had police chasing me... To survive I have been a chameleon. As you know, I speak many languages. Also, I'm not attached to anything. It's like living near a fault line-if you hear a noise, pack your things and get the fuck out of there. Don't become too accustomed to anything. I can sleep like a baby on a little field bed.


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Price flexibility in the art world is just one of the many advantages for a certain subset of the criminals — money launderers. Other advantages include portability, lack of a paper trail, anonymity, and no regulations. Artwork is lightweight compared to other valuables, like gold and cash. Artwork is bought and sold with minimal paperwork, unlike real estate. Artwork purchases can be anonymous, unlike everything else.
Rybolovlev's suspicion lingered, which is why when Sandy Heller mentioned the Modigliani in St. Bart's a month later, Rybolovlev asked him how much he had sold it for, something he ordinarily might have been reluctant to ask. (He says Bouvier asked that their transactions be kept confidential for fear that combining art dealing with art storage would be seen as a conflict of interest, a practice the art dealer Larry Gagosian has indeed criticized.) As he sat there stunned in the Eden Rock din- ing room, he says, realizing how much he had overpaid, his first reaction was, "I wanted to call Tania and ask her, 'Do you know what Yves is doing?' "
At first Rybolovlev collected slowly, buying a handful of works, including a Monet water lily painting, Gauguin's House of Hymns, three Picassos, and three Modiglianis. After 2009, however, the pace quickened. Rybolovlev was no longer interested in decorating his walls with museum pieces, he says, perhaps because the walls themselves were a subject of dispute.
We went with the police and about 20 Nigerians into the gallery the day before the opening. There were all of these fucking posh people sipping champagne, and in we came to shut it down. You should've seen their fucking jaws! I made a statement: "Don't touch the heritage of these people!" And it's not that I was a white knight-not at all. But I began to come across certain things that I just couldn't step over.
In the shady world of art, private transactions are amongst the most opaque, which is exactly what this case is about. Bouvier, who takes credit in having built Rybolovlev’s collection into “one of the finest in the world,” admits to having worked with the oligarch for ten years, having sold him forty “major works,” reportedly from artists including Picasso, Gauguin, Degas, and even a controversial Da Vinci. Specifically, Rybolovlev’s family trust (which controls his collection) claims Bouvier defrauded them by taking a broker’s commission of 2% while charging an illegal, and hyperbolic, markup, using offshore companies to disguise his interventions.

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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.
"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?
In the tight-knit world of art dealers and mega-buyers, where insider information is the name of the game, Bouvier's case could be prove to be a game changer, as it potentially pits collectors against brokers, putting inherent conflicts of interest in the spotlight. At the same time, Rybolovlev is playing a high-stakes game, as a sophisticated collector and global businessman of his stature is not one who doesn't understand the risks he's taking. His lawyer claims other "victims" of Mr. Bouvier have already approached them, while the embattled King of the free ports believes he will clear his name in a Monaco court. Whatever happens the impact could be permanent.

Contact an art advisor to help you find a buyer for your work or see if an auction house like Sotheby’s or Christie’s wants to auction it for you. If they help you sell your collection, they will make money, so it’s in their best interest not to ask any questions. Make an appointment with an auction house to appraise the pieces in your collection. You’ll sign a contract that says you are allowing the auctioneers to sell your collection on consignment, which means if it sells you get paid, and if it doesn’t you get the art returned to you. It will also tell you what sort of fees you will be charged - like insurance, shipping, and the auction house’s cut. You’ll ship the work to the auction house, wait for your collection to be sold, and make it rain.
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.)
This would all just be face-palm silliness on the Times’s part, a reflection of its editorial disconnect between the culture pages and the business staff, if the story didn’t also glide over the real point of what is going on here. The best protected transactions in the art market are those that pass through the auction houses because those firms do the KYC due diligence that squelch money laundering. Auction houses have compliance staff and are easily monitored by the law enforcement which doesn’t crack down on large private transactions that take place through lawyers or dealers.  The Times admits this when they point out that Jho Low passed KYC diligence before it was revealed that he was involved in the 1MDB transactions. After it was revealed, he is no longer able to access art markets through the auction houses.
To be greeted by a Russian-speaking security team at La Belle Epoque, Rybolovlev's Monaco residence (reportedly the most expensive apartment in the world, worth $323 million), is not a surprise, then. The three-story penthouse also happens to be the scene of Monaco's most infamous murder, that of the Lebanese-Brazilian banker Edmond Safra, who was killed in a botched arson attempt by one of his caretakers in 1999. British developers Nick and Christian Candy subsequently renovated the manse to resemble a modern Versailles. My heels click-clack on the marble floors as a pleasant but pale aide-de-camp ushers me into the living room, where Rybolovlev's young lawyer, Tetiana Bersheda, tall and thin, with diamonds around her neck and wrist, soon comes to fetch me.
"[If ] he would have asked me," she says, "I would have told him." The question echoing around the art world is how one of the world's richest, toughest investors—whose trusts own the penthouse at 15 Central Park West (bought for $88 million in 2012 and occupied by his daughter Ekaterina, a college student at the time); two entire Greek islands (Sparti and Skorpios, famous for hosting Jacqueline Kennedy's wedding to Aristotle Onassis); the Maison de l'Amitié (a Palm Beach mansion bought from Donald Trump for $95 million, which Rybolovlev reportedly intends to demolish due to mold problems); a $20 million property on Kauai bought from Will Smith; a $100 million yacht; homes in Gstaad, Geneva, Paris, and Monaco; and AS Monaco, the soccer team—could make himself so vulnerable. Was he, like many new billionaires, in such a hurry to build a glittering collection that he failed to "learn art," as experienced patrons know one must to avoid overpaying? The art market is often described as insider trading conducted by a small but sophisticated network of "experts" who prey upon the naïveté of the nouveau riche. Did Rybolovlev, a famously shrewd and strategic investor, underestimate its ability to confound and deceive? Until now he hadn't talked.
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Contact an art advisor to help you find a buyer for your work or see if an auction house like Sotheby’s or Christie’s wants to auction it for you. If they help you sell your collection, they will make money, so it’s in their best interest not to ask any questions. Make an appointment with an auction house to appraise the pieces in your collection. You’ll sign a contract that says you are allowing the auctioneers to sell your collection on consignment, which means if it sells you get paid, and if it doesn’t you get the art returned to you. It will also tell you what sort of fees you will be charged - like insurance, shipping, and the auction house’s cut. You’ll ship the work to the auction house, wait for your collection to be sold, and make it rain.
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