In Plain Sight: Illicit Funds Concealed in Artwork

In 2007, US federal investigators found someone attempting to smuggle a painting, titled Hannibal, at New York’s Kennedy Airport. Although the painting by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was appraised at $8 million, it was accompanied with a bill of lading listing the value as $100. The painting was part of a 12,000-piece art collection purchased by Brazilian financier Edmar Cid Ferriera using embezzled funds. Similarly, in a high-profile money laundering case that helped finance the movie, “Wolf of Wall Street,” Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, siphoned part of a $1 billion fortune from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund into American assets, such as real estate in California and, most notably, works of paintings by Basquiat, Rothko, and Van Gogh. Both Ferreira and Razak gained recognition, not because of the amassed wealth they laundered, nor because they were renowned art enthusiasts, but because of the manner in which it was performed.

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Christopher Lopez

Christopher Lopez

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