Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev had decided to send off a tough 2014 in New York City. The Monaco-based billionaire had been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after a Swiss judge awarded his ex-wife Elena $4.5 billion in their seven-year divorce battle. An avid art collector, Rybolovlev decided to spend New Year’s Eve with Sandy Heller, Steve Cohen’s well-known art adviser. As they exchanged war stories, one particular tale made his jaw drop: it was about a beautiful Nude by Italian artist Amadeo Modigliani that Cohen sold for a juicy $93.5 million to a mystery buyer. What Heller didn’t know was that behind the veil of anonymity stood Rybolovlev, fuming internally on that December 31. Rybolovlev had paid his trusted friend and art broker Yves Bouvier $118 million for the piece, more than $22 million above what he just found out the market value should've been, including the fee. Not one to sit around, the oligarch went for the jugular, filing a criminal complaint in the Principality of Monaco for fraud and money laundering only nine days later. In what promises to be the biggest art scandal of 2015, Bouvier was ambushed by eight police officers who took him into custody this February, tricked by Rybolovlev himself as they were set to discuss payment terms for a masterpiece by Mark Rothko. He’s currently out on bail.
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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.
Morland came out to find most of his profits had been lost. His old friends shunned him and the family firm went bust. So for the next thirty years he became a professional yachtsman-smuggler, plying his trade across the Mediterranean, shifting tons of hash, mixing with everyone from Berber tribesmen to gangland heavies, and alternating between periods of sudden wealth and bleak incarceration. In 1980, 1990 and again in 2000, he was caught and jailed for long terms. Now in his early eighties, he lives in “pretty good poverty” and teaches pottery. This is his amazing story.

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.
Consistent with general AML principles, the AML Standards stress that beneficial ownership may be obscured behind multiple layers of intermediaries, such as shell companies or offshore companies involving trusts. The AML Standards further provide a list of possible red flags for identifying increased risks of money laundering presented by a client that:
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
Anonymity was certainly a factor in the success of the scam that took down the estimable Knoedler gallery in New York after 165 years in business. Some $80 million was turned over by collectors to purchase unknown, albeit fake, “masterpieces” that were brought to market by a Long Island art dealer and her boyfriend. They said all the work had come from a mystery collector who became known as Mr. X. In fact, they were being created by a forger in his Queens garage.

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.

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.

For the next few years Rappo's relationship with Rybolovlev was status quo. It was not a friendship, she says: "I had affection for her. I never had affection for him... He's a block of ice." However, she continued to be a liaison between Rybolovlev and Bouvier; and she continued to receive introduction fees from Bouvier, an arrangement for which she says she received around 5 percent whenever a deal closed. She and Elena stopped speaking for a reason Rappo won't divulge.


Law enforcement officials in the United States and abroad say “Hannibal” is just one of thousands of valuable artworks being used by criminals to hide illicit profits and illegally transfer assets around the globe. As other traditional money-laundering techniques have come under closer scrutiny, smugglers, drug traffickers, arms dealers and the like have increasingly turned to the famously opaque art market, officials say.

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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.

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.
In one current money-laundering case, United States authorities have accused Malaysian officials and associates in a civil complaint of converting billions of dollars of embezzled public funds into investments like real estate and art. Masterworks by Basquiat, Rothko, Van Gogh and others were purchased, many at Christie’s, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors. Later, a Cayman Island company owned by one of the accused launderers took out a $107 million loan from Sotheby’s in 2014 using some of those artworks as collateral, authorities say.
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.
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