Of all the questions surrounding Trump and Russia, the question of whether the Kremlin could have laundered money through the Trump Organization in order to blackmail Trump has not often held the spotlight, obscured behind more direct connections, like discussions between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials like Donald Trump Jr. or George Papadapoulos, or more lurid ones from the Trump dossier.
But the partisan tensions bubbled over again Friday, with a skirmish over a report apparently produced by a splinter faction of Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee led by Nunes. The GOP majority voted Thursday night to share the report with colleagues, but not to release it to the general public. By Friday morning, however, Republican members of Congress were demanding the memo be made public—with their calls being amplified by Russian-linked Twitter accounts.
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.
So, with the help of a girlfriend who speaks better English, the potentate asked Heller, "What price did you sell it for?" The answer: $93 million, $25 million less than Rybolovlev's trusts had paid for it. Chuckling, Rybolovlev tells me his fellow diners at the Eden Rock "thought I was having a stroke." Less cheerfully he says it was the worst New Year's Eve of his life. Within minutes he was on the phone to Bersheda. For years, according to Rybolovlev, he believed he had been paying the middleman who had sold him the Modigliani (above)—as well as 37 other museum-worthy paintings—a commission of 2 percent (in other words, about $2 million for the Modigliani, not $25 million). He was now realizing every collector's worst fear: He had been fleeced, and the question was, for how long and how much?
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.
The Russian investigation into Laundromat has been cursory. One investigator admitted his probe into RZB had stalled. Two FSB agents visited their counterparts in Moldova and collected documents. There are suspicions the FSB’s real goal was merely to find out how much investigators knew. In March, Moldova complained that in recent months Russian agents had been harassing Moldovan diplomats arriving in Russia.
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.
And then Rybolovlev found out about a New York Times article he had missed from months earlier reporting that the Leonardo he had purchased for $127.5 million had been sold not long before for only $75 million to $80 million. The piece also stated that many experts thought the work had been done by an assistant in Leonardo's studio, not the artist himself.
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.
The Responsible Art Market, or RAM, is an industry-supported not-for-profit organization which describes itself as ‘”[r]aising awareness of risks faced by the art industry and providing practical guidance on establishing and implementing responsible practices to address those risks.” On its website, RAM provides both an Art Transaction Due Diligence Toolkit, as well as Guidelines on Combatting Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (“AML Guidelines”). The AML Guidelines are similar to the protocols set forth by the Basel Institute, but provide slightly more concrete detail. They set forth eight basic principles: