Tetiana Bersheda warned me that I would find Tania Rappo "captivating." After I meet her in her lawyer's office, atop a creaking staircase in a building near the Fairmont Monte Carlo, and later at dinner, accompanied by her husband and her lawyer, at an outdoor French restaurant, I cannot deny it. Dressed casually in a black halter top, jeans, and heels—as well as big pearl earrings—Rappo looks far younger than her years. One of the first things she tells me—then repeats again and again—is that she and Bersheda never got along. Bersheda was always kept away from the art collection, and one senses how much the rivalry between these two women plays a role in the case.
Creating and maintaining hundreds of LLCs to ostensibly do the same thing, like build hotels, condos, and homes, adds millions in bureaucratic overhead from payroll to tax filings. It wouldn’t be an issue if Trump ran a dozen corporations specializing in each vertical of his business, so having multiple companies under one umbrella is not at all unusual. Having so many doing the same things, however, is typically the same kind of warning sign for money laundering as being constantly told to recruit new salespeople is to pyramid schemes.
The story came to a partial resolution last month, when the Hungarian government announced that it had acquired seven of the 14 pieces from the heirs of Peter Wilson for €15m (£12.4m). As for the Northampton part of the cache, its fate remains mysterious: Lord Northampton divorced his fifth wife in 2012 with a secret settlement said to be worth £17m: it is not known if she received part of the hoard in the deal.
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.
When addressing the efforts to establish an artwork’s provenance history and authenticity under Guideline 4, the AML Guidelines provide that “[i]t is important to obtain and publish in any catalogue or sales document as much information as possible about the artwork, including any known provenance,” and to “check major databases of stolen and looted art and obtain any relevant and available legal documents, witness declarations, [and] expert opinions[.]” In addition to a physical examination of the artwork and a technical analysis and dating of the materials used, “[d]ocuments helpful in establishing ownership and provenance include invoices, receipts, dated photographs, insurance records, valuations, official records, exhibition catalogues, invoices for restoration work, diaries, dated newspaper articles, original signed and dated letters.”
Further, and as noted, other traditional vehicles for laundering money have become less attractive, thereby driving those who need a mechanism to launder large sums into the arms of the art world. As we repeatedly have blogged, one of the most time-honored and relatively convenient vehicles for laundering — real estate — is under intense scrutiny and now is subject in the U.S. to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”)’s ongoing Geographic Targeting Orders (these require U.S. title insurance companies in many parts of the U.S. to identify the natural persons behind legal entities used in purchases of residential real estate involving $300,000 or more and performed without a bank loan or similar form of external financing).