Showing posts with label Freeport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Freeport. Show all posts

January 12, 2019

Salvator Mundi: a tale of power, intrigue, betrayal and seemingly immeasurable sums of money


When the painting, “Salvator Mundi” (Savior of the World), attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, was sold at Christie's Auction for $450.312,500 in November 2017 it had already created a stir.  Some felt the oil painting of Christ, depicted in Renaissance dress giving a benediction, was wrongly attributed. Others were simply flabbergasted by the eye-popping price the once badly-damaged artwork bought at auction.

In its recent history, the artwork, attributed to Giovanni Boltraffio and characterized as a “school of da Vinci” portrait of Christ, was purchased for a paltry £45, on June 25, 1958, by Minnie Stanfill Kuntz.  Kuntz picked up the artwork during an auction at Sotheby’s in London, of objects from the estate holdings of Sir Francis Cook.  Minnie, who along with her husband ran a furniture business back in the United States, brought the religious-themed painting home to New Orleans.

After her death in 1987 the oil on walnut painting passed into her nephew's hands, Basil Clovis Hendry Sr., of Baton Rouge.  Hendry's daughter, Susan Hendry Tureau, a retired library technician, subsequently inherited the painting upon the death of her father in June 6, 2004. A short while afterwards, she decided to sell it.

Hendry Tureau obtained an appraisal which valued the artwork at a modest $750 and sent details on the painting for sales consideration to Christie's in New York and to the St. Charles Gallery branch of New Orleans Auction Gallery.  This Louisiana gallery, which has since changed hands, is where the “Salvator Mundi” was eventually consigned.  During the gallery's April 9-10, 2005 auction, the inherited painting was listed as Lot 664, and given an estimated sale price of $1,200 to $1,800.  The artwork sold for a brisk $10,000.  

Conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini
at work in her studio. 
Image Credit : AIC
The buyers of the artwork were Robert Simon, a specialist in Old Masters from New York, and Alexander Parish.  The pair, in turn, hired Dianne Dwyer Modestini, an Old Master and nineteenth-century paintings conservator who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from l974 until l987, before moving on to further her private practice in paintings conservation in New York.

Modestini, a senior research fellow and conservator of the Kress Program in Paintings Conservation at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, was tasked with cleaning, repairing and studying the painting.  Six years of  painstaking restoration and the removal of dirt and stains were to follow.  During this time Modestini worked her way through deciphering the clumsy overpainting and repairing the damages wrought by time to the 500 year old work of art. 

With few known paintings by the great master in existence, and with most of Da Vinci's works in museums or public collections, the painting's possible attribution drew considerable excitement, as well as controversy, even before its ultimate November 2017 sale price.  

Some connoisseurs see the artwork as an unrecognized work by da Vinci, with numerous restoration enhancements or adulturations (depending upon the eyes of the viewer).  Others believe the artwork to be a lessor-valued "school of" work, where Leonardo likely, if at all, only intervened in a few specific places.  Some believe the artwork was painted primarily by an assistant, Bernardino Luini, a work of art that would eventually become, possibly, the prototype for up to twenty Leonardesque versions, which were completed by students and followers of Leonardo and which depict this well known composition of Christ.

But the controversies surrounding the painting were not solely related to its attribution, some of the disagreements include the orchestrations surrounding its various transactions in the art market, at different stages, after its declaration as a probable work by Leonardo da Vinci was gaining momentum.

From the local antique market to the hands of the art market's elite

The market in high-end art has long had the potential to be one of the most manipulated markets in the world, and the sale of this once unknown portrait of Christ, now labeled as the work of Leonardo da Vinci, clearly illustrates this, as well as the struggle often caused by the market's opacity and interconnectedness.  As is often the case with high value works of art, price and worth are determined by the motives of both the buyers and the sellers.  Scratch below the surface of the transactional price and a clinched deal may have more to do with strategy and power than simply with the artworks innate aesthetic or genuine worth.

Bolstered by an exhibition at London's National Gallery held November 2011 through February 2012, and where the painting was listed as “an important opportunity to test this new attribution by direct comparison with works universally accepted as Leonardo’s”, the owners of the painting, Simon, Parish and Warren Adelson, president of Adelson Galleries, approached Max Anderson, and offered to sell him the “Salvator Mundi”.  This was in the Fall of 2011 and shortly before Anderson was appointed as director of the Dallas Museum of Art.

As part of their sales strategy, the dealers agreed to loan the artwork to the DMA from March through December of 2012.  As the first US exhibition of the painting, it was hoped the event would give the new director time to generate enthusiasm around its possible purchase and to buy the museum time to look for adequate funds.

Later, Anderson was quoted as saying the museum could have “snagged” the artwork for $125 million.  Yet, despite the director's best fund-raising efforts and enthusiasm, a viable deal, which satisfied the three sellers as well as the museum's board and donors, never solidified.   In December 2012, the owners rejected the museum’s final bid following considerable negotiation.

Soon after, the artwork was shipped back to New York, to be sold on the auction block.  With two well publicized exhibitions to back it up, a muted presale estimate of $100 million, with a da Vinci attribution, was srtimated.

Ironically though, in May 2013, Swiss businessman and freeport mogul, Yves Bouvier, negotiated a lower purchase price from the consortium's sellers.  After a short period of discussion, the businessman's offer of $83 million, via a privately brokered sale proposal, was accepted by the sellers.

Sam Valette, Sotheby's senior director
and vice chairman of private sales
Image Credit:  Screenshot Sotheby's video
Picasso's 'Plant de Tomates'
Their transaction was closed by Sotheby's rainmaker, Sam Valette, a senior director and vice chairman of private sales for the auction house. Known for his ability to generate large sums of money closing deals with high profile clients who seek total  discretion outside the auction hall, Valette also, on occasion, wrote assessments on artworks for Bouvier. As the Swiss art dealer was known to buy works of art from Sotheby’s in his own name in furtherance of his art sales business, Valette purportedly was not aware who Bouvier intended to sell the painting to.  This suggests that as far as the auction house was concerned, Bouvier was not, in this instance, to their specific knowledge, acting as an agent for any buyer in particular when the Da Vinci transaction was finalized.

Immediately after purchasing “Salvator Mundi”, Bouvier flipped the oil painting to his long-standing client, Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian oligarch whose fortune was built from his interests in Uralkali, one of the world's leading producers of potash fertiliser and one of Russia's largest chemical companies.  Bouvier sold the Christ painting to the Russian for $127.5 million, $44 million more than his had purchased it for.

Four years later, and in the middle of a raging feud between Rybolovlev and Bouvier, the Russian oligarch sold the painting via auction to Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud for $450.3 million.  After the buyer was announced, news reports began declaring that the painting would be publicly displayed on September 18, 2018 at the newly opened Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

Only that never happened.

Acting in the interest of the Seller and the Buyer.  Art-world luminaries aren't always who you expect them to be.

The circumstances surrounding the private deal Bouvier struck with Rybolovlev, and Rybolovlev then struck via public auction with Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, for the “Salvator Mundi” leave a trail of unanswered questions and intrigues.  Some of the details seem ripped from the pages of a Ian Fleming, 007, spy novel involving characters seemingly taken straight out of Casino Royale.


Rybolovlev

Dmitry Rybolovlev met Yves Bouvier for the first time in 2002 when the Russian billionaire paid a visit to the art storage facility Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève, to pick up a Marc Chagall painting that he had purchased titled “Le Cirque”.  The billionaire's aloof, art connoisseurship was fueled by his profits from potassium potash fertilizer (K20) business.  Potash being one of the main nutrients applied to soil in intensive cropping systems in agriculture around the world.

For Rybolovlev, art served as an investment, a portfolio diversifier, and most importantly as a transferable safe haven asset.   Portable, and not denominated in any currency, over the span of ten years, and prior to their litigious falling out, Bouvier would source and sell the Russian investor a total of 38 high value works of art.

While no comprehensive list of Rybolovlev's artistic acquisitions have been itemized, various news articles mention works of art purchased by the billionaire through the Swiss dealer.  These include art and sculpture by:

Edgar Degas
Paul Gauguin (Otahi and Te Fare)
Alberto Giacometti
El Greco (Saint Sebastian)
Gustave Klimt' (Wasserschlangen II)
René François Ghislain Magritte (Le domaine d’Arnheim)
Joseph Bonaventure Maillol
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (Nu Couché au Coussin Bleu)
Henri Émile Benoît Matisse
Oscar-Claude Monet
Pablo Picasso (Les Noces de Pierrette, Joueur de flute et Femme Nue, Femme se Coiffant and Espagnole à l’Eventail)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
François Auguste René Rodin (L’Eternel Printemps and Le Baiser Grand Modele)
Mark Rothko (No. 1 and No. 6 )
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Au Lit: Le Baiser)
Van Gogh's (Paysage Avec un Olivier)

and of course

Leonardo da Vinci's (Salvator Mundi)

Like many former Soviet Union oligarchs, Rybolovlev made his fortune through the privatisation of Russia’s infrastructure and natural resources, just as the former Soviet economic and political system began to shift under the Perestroika movement to a fledgling market-based economy.  The son of doctors from the industrial city of Perm, in what was once the Gulag Archipelago in the Ural region between the East European and West Siberian plains, Rybolovlev's acumen and interest was for business investment opportunities, not medicine.

By the time he was in his late twenties he had begun buying up shares in Uralkali, Perm's local fertilizer firm and other former Soviet, joint-stock companies in the region.  By 1995, and before the age of thirty, Rybolovlev had been named chairman of Uralkali's board, holding the company's majority shares.   The fertilizer powerhouse had only three serious business competitors: Belarusian BPC, the Canadian PotashCorp, and the Israeli firm ICL.

But business oligarchy in the former Soviet republics is not for the risk-averse.  In post-Soviet Russia, the underworld blended with the new elite of the Yeltsin era and as State assets were bought up and privatised, businesses were sometimes forced into paying professional criminals for protection.  As communism crumbled to dust and Russia's new business-sector entrepreneurs made billions, criminals too profiteered, exploiting opportunities where they could as Russia’s cannibalistic capitalism took hold.

As the values and structures of Soviet life disintegrated, organised crime cemented itself into the vulnerable cracks of the emerging market economy. Attempts on the lives of Perm businessmen were not uncommon and to protect himself, the Potash Tzar's hired bodyguards, began wearing a bulletproof vest, and travelled by armoured car.  Fearing kidnapping or worse, he decided to relocate his family, first to Florida and then ultimately to Switzerland where the family set up residency in Geneva in the Spring of 1995.  Thereafter, Rybolovlev traveled between Geneva and the Ural region as needed for business.

In the Spring of 1996 during one of these trips, Rybolovlev was arrested on suspicion of having ordered the murder of former business partner, Evgeny Panteleymonov, the general director of AO Neftekhimik in Perm.   Neftekhimik is a joint stock chemical company in which Rybolovlev reportedly owned 40% of its shares.

Incarcerated for 11 months, Dmitry Rybolovlev was released on a 1 billion ruble bail in April 1997 when convicted murdered Oleg Lomakin, who initially fingered the oligarch as having ordered the hit, changed his story claiming to have perjured himself.  By the end of the year, the Perm Regional Court had fully acquitted the businessman.  In a later interview given to Vedomosti, the Russian-language business daily published in Moscow, Rybolovlev stated that he didn't want to comment on his period of incarceration, considering the incident an unfortunate "law enforcement mistake."

By August, 2003 Rybolovlev had bought his first painting from Bouvier, “Paysage Avec un Olivier”.  The artwork, by Vincent van Gogh, was bought for a purported $17 million and seemingly cemented the Swiss dealer's  formal, or informal, business relationship with the Russian oligarch.

By 2006 Rybolovlev indicated that he held an 80 percent stake in Uralkali as well as a 20 percent stake in Silvinit, Uralkali's rival potash producer, and by 2008 Rybolovlev's spending on art and real estate accelerated.

Around this time, Rybolovlev's wife Elena wife began gearing up for divorce and on December 22, 2008 formally filed through the court in Geneva where, according to Swiss law, she would be entitled to half of her husband’s assets.  In a worrying letter, written to the Geneva prosecutor in December 2008, Elena suggested that her husband, Dmitry, should be considered a suspect, should anything nefarious ever happen to her.

The couple's acrimonious legal battle would stretch on for years, complete with a tangled web of trust funds, created ostensibly to protect his two daughters' financial futures. Elena's attorneys contentiously speculated as to whether or not these trusts, in some cases using offshore front companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere, were created fraudulently to thwart spousal access to her husband's diversified wealth.

Sinkhole at Berezniki
Source: ru.wikipedia.org.
That same year the already tense game of Russian fertilizer roulette grew tenser and talk began to swirl about the billionaire selling his interests in Uralkali outright.  In addition to an angry estranged wife, Rybolovlev began fending off renewed inquiries into a 2006 calamity at a Uralkali mining facility in Berezniki. This incident had caused significant structural and environmental damage to the main arteries of the city's infrastructure and properties.

With Kremlin-backed businessmen under the Putin era began pressing for their own ownership stakes in financially weakened privatized industries and regional authorities were seeking between $1.5 billion and $50 billion in damages as a result of the industrial disaster. That same year Uralkali's CEO Vladislav Baumgertner was arrested on charges of abusive exercise of power and abuse of office and Belarus authorities issued warrants for the arrest of other top Uralkali executives.

With pressure mounting on many fronts, and risking to lose a substantial chunk of his empire's fortune, Rybolovlev, began expanding his growing galaxy of tax shelters.  On July 16, 2008, through a limited liability company, the billionaire arranged for the off-market purchase of an 18 bedroom, 22 baths, 62,000 square-foot beach-side mansion, named “Maison de l’Amitie” in Palm Beach, FloridaThe property was purchased from owner Donald Trump for a reported $95 million.

515 N. County Road, Palm Beach, FL
Former Maison de L'Amitie estate
Sold by Donald Trump
Image Capture of plot lines after property
is razzed and subdivided.
Why a market savvy Russian businessman would purchased property from the future president of the United States, at a $50 million markup, during a real estate downturn, is not clear.  The French Regency-style estate once boasted a garage big enough to accommodate 50+ cars, a 30.5-metre long swimming pool, three guest houses and purportedly bulletproof windows.  But after the real estate deal closed Rybolovlev never moved in. Later, Palm Beach's newest billionaire bulldozed the entire 6.5 acre estate and split the land into three separate parcels.  Two of these barren oceanfront plots were then flipped, recouping $71 million of the Russian's initial investment. The third has reportedly not been sold.

In 2009 Rybolovlev began making arrangements to move artworks purchased and stored at Geneva's Ports Franc Bouvier's Singapore freeport, an über-warehouse was inaugurated in May 2010 and abuts Singapore's Changi International airport.

That same year, Rybolovlev's firm, Uralkali reached an eventual settlement agreement on damages for the industrial accident and payed out a relatively modest $218 million in damages for the harm it caused.

In June 2010, the mining magnate sold 53.2% of his share holdings in Uralkali to three Russian investors for $6.5 billion. The purchasers were:
  • Suleiman Kerimov, of Kaliha Finance Limited - 25% of the company's shares
  • Alexander Nesis, of Aerellia Investments Limited - 15% of the company's shares
  • Filaret Galcheva, of  Becounioco Holdings Limited - 13.2% of the company's shares
Three months later, in September of 2010, Rybolovlev bought controlling shareholder interest in the Bank of Cyprus via Odella Resources LTD, a business he registered in the British Virgin Islands, which belongs to the Trustees of a Cypriot international discretionary trust, the beneficiaries of whom are Mr. Dmitry Rybolovlev and his two daughters.  Shortly thereafter the Russian acquired Cypriot citizenship under the country's citizenship-by-investment scheme.  Rybolovlev's investment in the Cyprus bank once consisted of deposits at the BoC and €500 million euro in shares, and was reportedly lost by June 2013.  In 2014, President Trump's Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, became the Cyprus bank's chief shareholder.

Still pending divorce, Rybolovlev's continued to add to his constellation of art, businesses and properties.  Some were also purchased via trusts in the names of family members orchestrated via a company called Xitrans Finance Ltd., mentioned in the Panama Papers, an expose made up of 11.5 million documents leaked via a Panama-based law firm involving the financial dealings of shell companies many of which were created by large corporations and high net worth individuals, ostensibly for offshore, tax shelter purposes.  As some of Rybolovlev's transactions predate his divorce proceedings, the motives for these shelters he established seem to center on protection of assets in general.

By 2011 Dmitry had moved from Geneva to Monaco. Securing a 66.67 percent ownership majority in the Football club AS Monaco FC.  Likely saving the club  from bankruptcy when it was at the bottom of France’s second division list, Rybolovlev the football club's president That same year he also completed off market deals for the purchase of a Hawaiian villa from Will Smith for $20 million and purchased a 20th floor, Central Park West penthouse, once owned by Sandy Weill, the former chairman and chief executive of Citigroup, for $88 million.  Both properties were bought via trusts created in the name of his 22 year old daughter, Ekaterina Rybolovleva.

It was in this very New York apartment, in March 2013, that Rybolovlev first viewed the painting now attributed to Leonardo.  The viewing was arranged with Sotheby's, surprisingly enough, through Sam Valette, while the billionaire was visiting New York.  If the mogul was already interested in purchasing this work of art in March, it is not quite clear why he would then elect to passively wait until later to buy the painting at a much higher negotiated price via Bouvier.

The sellers of the painting, Simon, Parish and Adelson, also questioned the sequence of Rybolovlev's private viewing, crying foul formally in 2016 when news of the viewing came to light.  The sellers of “Salvator Mundi” claimed, in Manhattan federal court, that they had been shortchanged on the subsequent higher priced purchase, Bouvier orchestrated later with Rybolovlev.

Sotheby’s indicated in their own court filings that Valette didn’t realize who the Central Park potential buyer was at the time of the scheduled private viewing.  Though they conceded that he did recognize Rybolovlev from a previous sale, likely that of Gustav Klimt’s “Water Serpents II”, a painting looted in World War II and later sold for $183.8 million in 2012.  Sotheby’s eventually reached a confidential out of court settlement with Simon, Parish and Adelson though the details of their settlement agreement are private.

Image Credit:  https://www.youtube.com/watchv=ZdXsEGFOdII&t=67s
Screenshot from Video Milliardaire russe Vs marchand d'art
Whatever the circumstances surrounding the sale of the “Salvator Mundi,” it was not long afterwards, in 2014, that the relationship between the Russian and the Swiss businessmen turned sour.

Rybolovlev, by then living in a three story penthouse in une belle époque, overlooking the yacht-filled harbor of La Condamine in Monaco, took his former Swiss art advisor to court, going so far as to have him arrested on his own doorstep after summoning the Swiss dealer to Monaco to discuss an ongoing business transaction.  In court papers filed in multiple jurisdictions, Rybolovlev accuses Bouvier of defrauding him of approximately $1bn, for the works of art he purchased via the dealer over the lifespan of their business relationship.

The Russian magnate has claimed that the Swiss dealer had been working as an agent on his direct behalf, on a limited commission basis, but instead took disproportionately large commissions for himself on the art sales he negotiated.   Bouvier, on the other hand, maintains that any agreements made between the pair were never formalized in writing and therefore, as therefore, as an independent art dealer, he was at liberty to charge the billionaire whatever markup he deemed acceptable in furtherance of closing said deals.

By March 2015 Rybolovlev has filed lawsuits against Bouvier in two other countries: Hong Kong and Singapore, where the Swiss dealer was living.  As the litigation raged, the Russian billionaire sought to have Bouvier’s assets frozen.  A lengthy civil standoff between the former business acquaintances begins.

On October 12, 2015 Russian press announced that the freeport of Vladivostok, overlooking Golden Horn Bay was to be reestablished. The project would be led by Yuri Trutnev, senior adviser to Vladimir Putin, who curiously is also the former mayor of Perm.

Two and a half weeks later,  on October 20, 2015, Rybolovlev and his wife Elena jointly announce that they have reached a confidential and satisfactory settlement in their divorce, stating that this "puts an end to all legal procedures launched in different jurisdictions".  On this same date, he walks his then 26 year old daughter Katerina down the aisle to marry Juan Sartori on the now leased Onassis's private island of Skorpios. Satori is a Uruguayan entrepreneur who, in his thirties, chairs the Union Group (UG), a private firm that has significant interests in ventures related to agriculture, energy, afforestation, infrastructure, minerals, gas and oil, as well as real estate in Latin America.  Satori is now running as the Uruguay's National Party candidate for President in the 2019 elections for the Republic of Uruguay in opposition to the ruling Frente Amplio government.


In early 2017 Rybolovlev offloaded many of the 20th-century artworks he had previously purchased through Bouvier, some for strikingly high losses.

By the fall, Rybolovlev had also put the “Salvator Mundi” artwork up for auction at Christie’s through rainmaker Loïc Gouzer whose had brashly convinced the oligarch to auction the classical Old Master oil painting in the auction house's November 15, 2017 Postwar and Contemporary sale.  The painting was listed as Lot 9B, and came with a $100 million guarantee.  Surging quickly past this benchmark during the auction, two anonymous bidders battled tightly to outbid one other for twenty minutes until the threshold finally grew too rich for one of them.  Selling to the highest bidder, for $450.3 million inclusive of the 12.5% buyers premium, the artwork ranked as the single most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.

The following January (2018) Rybolovlev is named in the U.S. Treasury Department's Kremlin Report, a list of 210 officials and billionaires from Russia's ruling elite, who are expected to receive additional scrutiny in future business transactions in response to Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Russia's military involvement in Ukraine.

In 2017 Rybolovlev is charged in Monicao with "complicity in violating the right to respect for privacy" in connection with his ongoing dispute with Bouvier.

On October 2, 2018 Rybolovlev files a $380 million lawsuit in the US District Court of New York against Sotheby's alleging that the auction house “materially assisted the largest art fraud in history” in relation to sales orchestrated by Yves Bouvier.

Meanwhile,  between November 6 and 7, 2018, as the result of the same SMS messages obtained by the judicial authorities of Monaco from the phone of Tetiana Bersheda, one of Rybolovlev's previous lawyers related to the 2017 charge, the billionaire is taken into custody in Monte Carlo.   Held overnight by law enforcement, his residence is searched as part of an investigation into suspicions of influence peddling where it is suspected that Rybolovlev had been seeking to influence members of the higher echelons of power within the Principality of Monaco.  After his release the billionaire is formally named as a suspect in a graft investigation by Monaco's prosecutor general Sylvie Petit-Leclair who confirmed that Rybolovlev was under investigation for "active trading in influence" and "active bribery" involving Monaco's former interior minister Paul Masseron, three police officers, Christophe Haget, Patrick Fusari and Régis Asso, and Philippe Narmino, the Director of Judicial Services (equivalent to the Minister of Justice) as well as Narmino's wife and son.  As a result of this investigation Rybolovlev is now subject to security constraints on his movement while the court determines whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a trial.

As of 2018 civil litigation between and surrounding the business transactions between Rybolovlev and Bouvier remain ongoing in different jurisdictions including Monaco, Switzerland, Hong Kong, France and New York as does this criminal inquiry in Monaco.

Swiss Art Dealer
Yves Bouvier
Image Credit:
Bloomberg Markets Magazine 5/17/15
Bouvier

From 1997 until October 2017, through his Swiss holding company, Euroasia Investment SA, Yves Charles Edgar Bouvier served as the main shareholder in his family's company, Natural Le Coultre. Under his guidance, art and shipping magnate would build the firm into one of the largest specialty firms for the storage, packing, shipping and conservation of fine art.

At the Swiss Freeport in Geneva, Natural Le Coultre boasted a 22,000 square meter, state-of-the-art, art storage facility where art works were secured, showcased and bought and sold in a tax-free setting.  Before selling the firm to the French shipping firm André Chenuein, Natural Le Coultre offered freeport services and consultancies at Ports Francs & Entrepôts de Genève SA in Geneva, as well as in the freeports of Singapore and Luxembourg.

As a result of his shipping firm's extensive connections with international auction houses, curators, galleries, art dealers and private collectors, Bouvier, a successful entrepreneur, bought and sold art as well as consulted on the private sale and purchase of valuable art.  It was through this line of work, at Ports Franc in Geneva that Bouvier met Dmitry Rybolovlev for the first time in 2002, when the billionaire visited the Geneva Freeport regarding a Marc Chagall painting, “Le Cirque” the Russian businessman had acquired.   In that instance, Bouvier reportedly assisted the billionaire with documentation related to the artwork's purchase.

In August 2003 Bouvier went on to sell Rybolovlev the first of 38 artworks he would procure and sell to the Russian investor over the span of their business relationship.  The work was “Paysage Avec un Olivier”  by Vincent van Gogh and was sold to the Russian for upwards of $17 million. 

By October 2004 Bouvier had acquired “Les Noces de Pierrette” by Picasso from New York dealer William Acquavella, and this too was flipped to Rybolovlev for a purported $43.8 million. 

Three years later, in 2007, Bouvier would sell Rybolovlev four additional works of art, though it is unclear which four pieces were sold to the oligarch sold during this time period.

Between 2008 and 2013, Bouvier would sell Rybolovlev 28 more works of art.   Some of those include:

Rothko’s “No. 1”, sold in June 2008 for $36 million.

Picasso's “Joueur de Flute et Femme Nue”, sold in 2010 for $35 million.

Amedeo Modigliani's “Nu Couché au Coussin Bleu”, sold in 2011 for $118 million.

Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece “Wasserschlangen II”, sold sometime in 2012 for $183.8 million

Toulouse-Lautrec's “Au Lit: Le Baiser”, sold in February 2013 for €14 million.

 Picasso's “Espagnole à l’Eventail” and “Femme se Coiffant”, sold sometime in 2013 for $27 million.

Paul Gaugin’s “Otahi”, sold sometime in 2013 for $120 million.

Paul Gaugin’s “Te Fare”, sold sometime in 2013 for $85 million.

Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “L’Eternel Printemps, sold sometime in 2013 for $48.1 million.

Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “Le Baiser Grand Modele”, sold sometimes in 2013 for $10.4 million.

Rene Magritte's “Le domaine d’Arnheim”, date of sale unknown for $43.5 million;

and lastly,

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, which sold in May 2013 for $127.5 million, the price he obtained being uplifted $44 million over his own negotiated purchase price that same year.

In 2014 Bouvier had also been negotiating one additional deal with Rybolovlev, the sale of Mark Rothko’s “No. 6” (Violet, Green and Red) for a purchase price of $80 million, but the pair's relationship came to a stormy end before that sale became finalized.

Bouvier was arrested in early January 2015 in Monaco on suspicion of fraud and money laundering in the Principality of Monaco. The investigation was based on Rybolovlev’s claim that the Swiss dealer had cheated him out of $1 billion by gouging him on the fees he charged for artworks purchased via the Swiss dealer.  Spending one night in jail, Bouvier was released from custody on a €10 million bail and formally indicted on February 25, 2015 on charges of fraud and complicity in money laundering.

By March 2015 Rybolovlev had also filed civil lawsuits against Bouvier in Hong Kong and Singapore, where the Swiss dealer was living, asking that the authorities freeze all of Bouvier’s assets.

The same month, Switzerland’s Federal Department of Finance began their own investigation of Bouvier on “suspicion of serious tax infractions” estimating the dealer might be responsible for as much as $175 million in unpaid Swiss income tax.

In April 2015, Bouvier resigned from his position running Luxembourg’s Le Freeport, purportedly to focus on his defence.

Picasso Watercolors:
“Femme se Coiffant” and “Espagnnole à l’eventail”
Around the same dates Catherine Hutin-Blay, the only daughter of Pablo Picasso‘s second wife Jacqueline Roque, filed a legal complaint against Bouvier asserting that two of the artists watercolours, “Femme se Coiffant” and “Espagnnole à l’eventail”, both portraits of her mother and subsequently sold by Bouvier to Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2013, were stolen.

After much back and forth the Court of Appeal of Singapore ruled in April 2017 that Switzerland was a more appropriate forum for the former partners ongoing civil lawsuit.

In October 2017 Natural Le Coultre was then sold to one of its competitors, the French shipping firm André Chenuein.

As of 2018 civil litigation between and surrounding the business transactions between Bouvier and Rybolovlev remain ongoing in different jurisdictions including Monaco, Switzerland, Hong Kong, France and New York.

Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud

“Salvator Mundi” was apparently purchased by Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud on November 15, 2017 after registering to bid with Christie's only one day before the sale.

Prince Badr is comes from the cadet branch, Al Farhan, a branch of the royal family that does not trace its lineage to the founder of the modern kingdom, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud.  As far as can be determined, he had not, publically, collected art in the past and was unknown to Christie's as a buyer, prior to registering to bid for the Leonardo work.

Badr is reportedly close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has been known to align himself with second and third generation princes, like those in the Farhan al-Saud branch, in his pursuit of cultivating a loyal cadre of loyal subordinates.

During the frenzied New York auction, and unbeknownst to the winning Saudi bidder, the paddle war that drove the price to its impressive level was with a designated representative of United Arab Emirates ruler, crown prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, (“MBZ”), who had also directed a representative to bid on the painting.

The news of Prince Badr's winning bid was revealed in a New York Times article on November 6, 2017 and included speculation that the purchase may have been made on behalf of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, (“MbS”).  This despite the fact that just two weeks earlier, on November 4, 2017, the country's extravagant ruling had as many as 500 prominent Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers, and businessmen detained and accounts frozen in what was stated to be an anti-corruption drive.

Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud holds a bachelor’s degree in law from King Saud University and was appointed as the first and current Minister of Culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia following a major Saudi Cabinet reshuffle on June 2, 2018 at which point the Former Ministry of Culture and Information was renamed the Ministry of Information.

Prince Badr is also the CEO of the Misk institute for Arts and worked with the institute’s team under the auspices of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, formed in 2011, to achieve Saudi's objectives in enabling international cultural diplomacy and art exchange.  In keeping with his present roles, by royal decree in July 2017, Badr was also been appointed to the Royal Commission for Al-Ula formed to promote tourism in the UNESCO World Heritage Al-Ula region with hopes of making its Nabataean tombs more accessible to Saudis and the world.

Prior to his present roles and responsibilities, Prince Badr was listed as the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG).

On December 6, 2017 as criticism and speculation over the Saudi purchase roiled in conservative Saudi circles the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi, made a striking announcement via twitter that the painting “is coming to Louvre Abu Dhabi.”


Two days later, on December 8 2017, the Saudi government distanced itself from reports that its 32-year-old Saudi crown prince was behind the purchase and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC issued the following statement:
"Due to the media reporting on the da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi purchase, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. inquired from His Highness Prince Badr Al Saud’s office on the details related to the art piece’s purchase. Upon reaching out, the Embassy learned through information conveyed by His Highness's office that the art work was acquired by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism for display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and that HH Prince Badr, as a friendly supporter of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, attended its opening ceremony on November 8th and was subsequently asked by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism to act as an intermediary purchaser for the piece."

That same date the Louvre Abu Dhabi again tweeted, echoing the Saudi official statement that the “Salvator Mundi” had been acquired by the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi on the museum's behalf.



Why Prince Badr would bid for the UAE museum in contest with another UAE bidder has never been explained.  What is known is that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is a close ally to his counterpart in Abu Dhabi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and quickly purchased the 26-bedroom luxury yacht known as "The Topaz", originally owned by Mansour Bin Zayed, the brother of the UAE Crown Prince, for $450 million in a swap for the painting.

On September 3, 2018 Reuters news service, reported that they had been shown a document which illustrated that Prince Badr had been authorized to purchase the artwork, on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.  Who "authorized" him, or when, is not stated in the brief news report, nor has the nature or details of this document been made public.

What is known is that the painting has still not gone on display at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi despite the earlier September 18, 2018 exhibition date announcement by the UAE museum.

Where the painting is now, remains an unsolved mystery, as no news has officially been released by either the museum or the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism since the September 8, 2018 announcement that the planned unveiling of the Leonardo at the museum had been be postponed.

In closing to this long article, a look at Prince Badr's twitter feed brings us full circle back to Russia.

On November 16, 2018 he writes:

"We accepted the invitation of our friends in Russia to participate in the St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum. It was a great opportunity to further strengthen cultural cooperation and meet with President Vladimir Putin.
@KremlinRussia @KremlinRussia_E  #SPBICF2018"


Also, Saudi's crown prince's fascination with pricey yachts, also apparently includes yachts formerly-owned by Russian billionaires.  In 2015 Crown Prince MbS purchased the Italian built, 134-meter "Serene" on the spot from exiled Stolichnaya vodka magnate, Yuri Scheffler for $458 million

From Russia, with Love.

East–West tensions, mysterious sheiks, a brewing Cold War, mixed with betrayals, and the chess games of power and influence.  If only Ian Fleming had lived to write a sequel. 

March 9, 2017

Exhibition: When a school transforms itself into a museum: Preserving Italian heritage: recovered artefacts on display from 9 March to 30 April 2017 at the Rome International School



Following the success of the “Pop Icons” exhibition, the Rome International School in collaboration with MiBACT and the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale will host a new cultural event in Rome, Italy highlighting the work of the Italian art crime military squad.

Starting today, and running through April 30th, the Rome International School will host 75 archaeological items, recovered from illegal excavations and thefts 
recovered by this special branch of the Carabinieri.

On hand for today's press conference was Commander of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, General Fabrizio Parrulli, the Director General of LUISS Guido Carli University (the parent school to the RIS), and Giovanni Lo Storto, Director General, MiBACT.

If you ever wanted irrefutable proof that a large, well trained police force can have an impact on art crimes, this exhibition, both visually and emotionally, hands you unrefutable evidence on a plate. 

Want to whet your appetite to what you will see on display?  

Here are a few of the artworks which stand out:

An attic red-figure pelike depicting Hercules in the garden of the Hesperides, and on the reverse side, a scene from the Iliupersis, also known as the sacking of Troy. This IV century BCE ceramic storage jar, similar to an amphora, was illegally excavated from somewhere in Puglia/Sicilia/Sardegna/Calabria.  It was recovered during "Operation Teseo" a multinational police operation which recovered 5,361 antiquities confiscated in Basel, Switzerland.

A 340-320 BCE crater with a representation of Helios on his sun chariot pulled by horses.  This vase was seized during a raid against an antiquities dealer in 2009. 

An illegally excavated III-I century BCE sarcophagus with a full-length portrait of a man reclining on a kline from clandestine excavation conducted in Southern Etruria dear Tuscania.  One of the largest objects in this exhibition, the sarcophagus was recovered from an art storage warehouse in Switzerland in 2016 as part of Operation Antiche Dimore, a law enforcement seizure of 45 shipping crates belonging to Robin Symes which contained ancient works of art worth an estimated € 9 million that the disgraced dealer intended for the English market, Japanese and American antiquities markets.  

A fresco slab looted from a tomb in historic Casertano depicting an armed warrior on horseback along with two heavily armed hoplite (foot-soldiers). The work was recovered from the storage area of an antiquities dealer in Como, Italy in May 2015. 


A specific installation dedicated to ancient armour, which includes ancient suits of armour and weapons that originate from different parts of Italy, between the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. 

The exhibition builds a bridge between the culture of the past, the culture of the future and the culture of legality.  The last ultimately protects the rights of all of us to enjoy the knowledge and beauty that we have inherited from centuries long past. 

The art crime exhibition will be open to the public for free Monday to Friday, between 8:30 am and 6:00 pm and during the weekends from 10:00 am until 8:00pm

For more information about the event please visit the RIS website. 

December 3, 2016

Geneva authorities report the confiscation of 9 artifacts from Palmyra, Syria, Yemen and Libya

Swiss authorities have confiscated nine archaeological objects originating from Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Through document records obtained by Swiss tribunal it has been determined that the objects were shipped to Switzerland between 2009 and 2010 and were stored at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève in their 6-story La Praille facility, located in a sprawling grey industrial building on the corner of a busy junction in southwest Geneva.

Back in September ARCA posted its own concerns about Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA attempt to reduce their risks surrounding the trade in stolen antiquities, both in terms of money-laundering and as a potential support for arms traffickers or terrorist groups. At that time, the free port was set to make changes that may or may not have been prompted to address this seizure, but still, in our opinion fall short of the thoroughly addressing the problem of storing looted artworks.

Originally set to be implemented this past summer, the new internal policy was implimented on September 19, 2016 and requires that anyone wanting to store ancient artifacts at the sprawling facility will have to undergo checks by an independent firm KPMG.  This group is tasked with investigating the validity of requests and the precise origins of any antiquities before the object is approved for transport to the complex for subsequent storage.  It should be noted that KPMG is a powerhouse accounting audit firm and in no way has had prior experience with this type of art-related transport auditing.

Back in October French finance minister Michel Sapin's, speaking on terrorism funding criticized security at Switzerland's free ports saying "there is a weak link, which is the existence of free ports."    And while it should be clearly noted that the recently publicized seizures in the tax-free zone predate both the Syrian and the Yemen conflict, ARCA agrees that controls by art provenance experts and not accounting experts would be a better means of addressing the continued problems seen at not just Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève but freeports as holding facilities for art world wide. 

The antiquities were discovered during an target-based Federal Customs Administration audit of the free port in April 2013 in a space rented by a private individual.  Presently that individual has not been publically identified.

In January 2015 Swiss authorities, through the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) confirmed the authenticity of the ancient objects, and have stated that some of the seized objects were shipped to the facility from Qatar (Items 1-6) and the United Arab Emirates (Item 7).  Swiss authorities have also stated that evidence gathered during the investigation has led the prosecutor to conclude that the goods seized were from looting and as a result, confiscation was ordered.  In addition a criminal case has been opened by the Tribune de Genève in March 2016 to be followed by Prosecutor Gregory Orci.

North-West Façade
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire
While the objects await permanent release to their countries of origin Swiss prosecutors have transferred the objects for safekeeping from Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève to the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire located at Rue Charles-Galland 2, 1206 Genève where they will be placed on public display.  

The objects have been identified by the Swiss authorities as follows with the following designations and in the order as they appear in official records.

Item 1 - A head of Aphrodite, origin Hellenic North Africa, Libya

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 2 - A priest wearing his miter head, origin Palmyra, Syria

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 3 - A circular table with decoration of ovals and head of ibex, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 4 - A praying [sic] origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 5 - anthropomorphic stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Item 6 - anthropomorphic stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen
Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 7 - A quâtabanite registration stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor 
Item 8 - Funerary bas-relief from Palmyra, Syria

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 9 - Funerary bas-relief from Palmyra, Syria
Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor

No longer simply Italian and Greek objects raising concern at the free ports, the Geneva port authority also recently relinquished a Nile Delta stele to Egyptian authorities following a two-year investigation after an inventory control by Swiss Federal Customs at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA facility at the Geneva airport.   The stele was identified as suspicious using the ICOM red list for Egypt and as a result was held pending authentication and then reported to Swiss prosecution for its irregularities. Criminal proceedings were conducted by the Attorney Claudio Mascotto and the object was returned in November of this year.

By: Lynda Albertson 

October 8, 2016

UNESCO issues report on Freeports


The Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) promotes practical tools and communication to raise public awareness about trafficking in and return of stolen objects.

With its work closely tied to the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, the Committee met at UNESCO's Headquarters in Paris, on September 29-30, 2016 to discus the need for better prevention, increased cooperation and awareness raising of illicit trafficking in cultural property.

As an outcome of that meeting, UNESCO issued a document which highlights the phenomenon of free ports and their implications on the illicit art market. A copy of their report, it its entirety, can be referenced directly on the UNESCO website here:

Freeport concerns are a subject that ARCA has blogged about with regularity as has Professor David Gill on the blog Looting Matters as they have long been havens for high value artwork in general and illicit art work in particular.  More recently Free ports have been springing up around the world with increasing regularity as more investors begin to store and trade physical assets at locations which provide taxation incentives.

With their state of the art security, enormous potential for tax savings and less than transparent ownership record keeping which varies from country to country and freeport to freeport, these massive storage facilities may well continue to be a convenient and secure weigh station for traffickers to park hot goods until the world gets distracted elsewhere.  










September 22, 2016

Why you should go see the exhibition "L’Arma per l’Arte e la Legalità" if you are in Rome


Why you should go see the exhibition "L’Arma per l’Arte e la Legalità" if you are in Rome between now and October 30, 2016.

First there is a 1919 sketch by Amedeo Modigliani, Jeune femme attablée au café stolen from the tony Parisian residence of a private collector in 1995.   It was recovered in Rome this past summer thanks to the watchful eyes of investigative officers of the Ufficio Comando – Sezione Elaborazione who work with the Carabinieri's specialized art crime database, Leonardo. Reviewing upcoming auctions, the team spotted the artist's drawing blatantly up for sale with a hefty €500,000 starting bid.

Then there are four of the 17 recovered artworks stolen November 19, 2015 from the Verona Civic Museum of Castelvecchio in northern Italy as well as some of the more impressive antiquities from Operation ‘Antiche Dimore’ conducted in 2016.  This seizure recovered 45 shipping crates of ancient art worth an estimated € 9 million intended for the English market, Japanese and American antiquities markets. The objects date from the seventh century BCE through to the second century CE and originate from clandestine excavations conducted over the past thirty years in Southern Etruria.

But if you think big time tomb raider busts only involve the much talked about powerhouse dealers like Robin Symes and Giacomo Medici, think again.  This exhibition also has a kylix attributed to the Greek painter of Andokides, an ancient Athenian vase painter who was active from 530 to approximately 515 BCE.  This gorgeous drinking vessel was recovered in Munich of this year as part of an extensive police investigation involving 27 suspects who worked in an organised network forming all the links in the illicit looting chain from grave robbers to fences to middlemen transporters stretching from Southern Etruria all the way up to Germany.


The exhibit also showcases the tools of the Tombarolo. Grave robbers of the third millennium merge modern grave robbing technology, using metal detectors, battery-operated headlamps and headphones with still functional old fashioned ones like the spillone and badile (a long flexible metal rod and shovel).  With these weapons they plow antiquities-rich fields searching, and all too often finding, lost treasures hidden for centuries.


The metal rod hasn't changed much over the years.  It is a simple pole used to probe the ground.  When the rod is hammered or twisted into the ground and comes in contact with an air pocket or something solid, looters dig a test hole knowing that below there is likely to be an environment created by man such as a chamber tomb.  Ancient tombs are known to possibly contain sarcophagi, vessels of all kinds, jewelery, and coins make them attractive for looting. Undocumented, the freshly dug illicit antiquities then flow into the licit market, and through laundering often become the "property of a Swiss gentlemen".

As the largest exhibition of stolen art in the world, the 200+ objects in this Rome exhibition are impressive.  The fact that we can see them is thanks to the unprecedented collaboration between MiBACT, the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Tourism, the National Gallery of Ancient Art of Rome - Palazzo Barberini, the University of Roma Tre (Department of Humanities) and the hardworking Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale.  

To bring art crimes to the public's attention the collaborators have enriched the exhibition space with educational panels, made by the University of Roma Tre to help visitors gain a better understanding of the damage caused by the illicit trafficking.  These panels also explain in detail the process of investigations and recoveries, as well as the importance of protecting art in advance of it going missing.

If you ever wanted irrefutable proof that a large, well trained police force can have an impact on art crimes, this exhibition both visually and emotionally hands you that evidence wrapped in a painfully vivid, artistic bow.

Want to whet your appetite to what you will see on display?  Take a look at this video taken at the exhibition's opening and see if you spot other works that you know. 



This free exhibition runs through 30 October 2016 in Rome at:
Gallerie Nazionali di Arte Antica di Roma
Palazzo Barberini
Via delle Quattro Fontane 13 – Roma
Opening hours 10-18
(Closed on Mondays)

September 19, 2016

Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA addressing concerns about the trade in stolen antiquities

Google Earth View of Ports Franc
As Geneva officials at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA attempt to address previously raised concerns about the risks surrounding the trade in stolen antiquities, both in terms of money-laundering and as a potential support for arms traffickers or terrorist groups, tighter controls have been implemented today on shipments which affect everyone in the art shipping industry that handle the shipment of antiquities to this free port. 

Originally set to be implemented this past summer, the new rule requires that anyone wanting to store ancient artefacts at the sprawling facility will have to undergo checks by an independent firm of specialists hired by the über-warehouse.  This group is tasked with investigating the validity of requests and the precise origins of any antiquities before the object is approved for transport to the complex for subsequent storage.  

The new check applies to all objects classified under HS Code 9705.   HS classifications are based on standardised international codes used in shipment data as a means of classifying specific types of goods.  Goods listed under this code are deemed to be "works of art, collectors' pieces and antiques, collections and collectors' pieces of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archaeological, palaeontological, ethnographic or numismatic interest."

According to the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA website, the first step of this procedure will be a documentation check made by KPMG, one of the Big Four global consultancy firms, (along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers) more famous for their financial audit, tax and advisory services. What this powerhouse finance firm's experience is as auditors of artwork provenance is not clear.  There is no mention of art services on the KPMG website. 

But moving along to what the shippers need to submit. 

To complete the new due diligence check, potential customers who wish to use the facility will be required to ship, a minimum of ten days prior to the intended shipment date, "all documents in your possession (invoices, lists, certificates, export licenses, passports, etc.) as well as a good quality photograph" for inspection.  The Ports Francs website doesn't specify what the photo should be of:  the object to be stored or a passport photo of the shipper.  

The Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA website further states that "an Artloss register certificate is a big asset." 

While the Geneva freeport may see a certificate from an art loss database such as London-based Art Loss Register or Art Claim (another art loss database maintained by Art Recovery International) as the owner having done their individual due diligence these types of certificates are only helpful in cases where known objects are stolen from known collections.  Such paper assurances offer no proof that the proposed antiquity is of licit origin and are ineffective in diminishing the illicit trade in archaeological remains.   

Undocumented, looted antiquities without collection histories will never appear in art loss databases.  This has been underscored over and over again. Undocumented, looted antiquities appear most often at border crossings and all to frequently launder their way up and into the art market, popping up with embarrassing regularity in museum and private collections despite sometimes having accumulated probable paperwork that on first glance tacitly legitimises them along the way.

When suspicious, rather than relying on certificates, KPMG would be better served consulting with the WCO,  academics researching in the field of illicit antiquities and the International Council of Museums (ICOM).   ICOM's “Red Lists” offer detailed descriptions of objects the auditors should be suspicious of coming from countries that may currently be or have been at risk of looting. Trusting that an object is "clean" merely because it has a stack of papers tied to it will not deter trafficking.


In 2013 Connaissances des Arts, estimated that the Ports Francs free port held around 1.2 million artworks. Its huge warehouses offers 150,000 square meters (1.6 million square feet) of storage space.  In more visual terms, that's the equivalent of 22 soccer pitches.  

While the amendment to the Swiss Customs Act, approved by the Swiss parliament on Jan. 1, 2016, and this new ruling give new power to administrators, customs authorities and contractors to monitor and control the entry and exit of goods from its tax-advantaged art-and-collectible storage facility, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Four major free ports in Switzerland dominate the market in storing high value goods. Five free ports worldwide have bet their marketshare specialising in the storage of priceless art works. The oldest is Ports Francs in the La Praille neighborhood in Geneva, Switzerland which was founded in 1850.  The others include the ultra chic Singapore Freeport which opened in 2010, the Monaco Freeport by S.E.G.E.M., in Fontvieille, just minutes away from the lucrative casinos of Monte-Carlo.

Le Freeport in Luxembourg opened its doors just two years ago, benefiting in part from the overflow of taxable goods once destined for Ports Francs in Geneva.  In the Far East the Beijing Freeport of Culture located adjacent to Beijing Capital Airport, and the much anticipated Shanghai Le Freeport West Bund, which is lated to open in 2017, both will allow the art market to store a substantial amount of art in mainland China.

In 2013, the European Fine Art Fair annual report, known in the field as the TEFAF Art Market Report cited an estimate which estimated that approximately $100 billion of art is stored in tax friendly free port facilities.  To be effective in deterring trafficking through these facilities, any inspections undertaken in free ports should be harmonised in all facilities across the globe. 

By: Lynda Albertson