Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Russian Billionaires Used Art To Evade Sanctions and Launder Money

From ArtNet News, July 29:

A Hard-Hitting New Senate Report Details How Art Dealers and Auction Houses Have Undermined US Sanctions Against Russia
Arkady and Boris Rotenberg spent $18.4 million in art after being put under sanctions by president Obama.
A new congressional report reveals that two Russian oligarchs used the lax laws of the art market to evade U.S. sanctions. 
Released today by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the report alleges that billionaire brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg spent $18.4 million in U.S. funds on art—and upwards of $91 million in total—after sanctions were placed on them in 2014. 

The Rotenbergs, lifelong friends of Vladimir Putin, were among 21 Russians placed under sanctions by president Obama in an effort to punish Putin for annexing Crimea. 

Months after Obama’s executive order, the brothers dropped $6.8 million on 10 artworks at a Sotheby’s New York auction, including $2.9 million for Georges Braque’s Pichet et Journal and $1.1 million Marc Chagall’s Femme et Enfant, the report explains. Within weeks, they added a $600,000 archive relating to the work of Constructivist architect Yakov Georgievich Chernikhov through Bonhams New York, a $7.5 million for René Magritte’s La Poitrine through a private dealer, and $1.75 million for Jean-Paul Riopelle’s Ombre d’Espace through a private gallery.

The 150-page bipartisan report, authored by senators Rob Portman from Ohio and Tom Carper from Delaware, details the ways in which the art world’s penchant for opacity undermine sanctions. It is illegal for U.S. companies to do business with sanctioned individuals, but because there are no strict laws in place requiring auction houses and dealers to do background checks on buyers, it’s easy for people like the Rotenbergs to move money around within the art world....

If interested here's the report, some of the testimony is inadvertently hilarious:
"A private dealer interviewed by the Subcommittee stated she had no written AML policies, tries to work with people she knows and trusts, looks for red flags, and relies on her gut."

 150 page PDF