Showing posts with label tax fraud. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tax fraud. Show all posts

October 15, 2016

Saturday, October 15, 2016 - ,, No comments

Collector's indictment shows just how easy it was for art to be transported to places it shouldn't be

In April of this year luxury real-estate developer and fine arts collector Michael Shvo, based in New York City with offices in New York, London, and Dubai blessed the pages of the Wall Street Journal as one of New York's savvy young developers with more than $4bn (£2.84bn) worth of luxury projects in development. But in September Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. indicted the business mogul for allegedly evading more than $1.4 million in taxes related to the purchase of fine art, furniture, jewelry and a Ferrari 458 Spider. 

With hefty charges that include criminal tax fraud in the second, third and fourth degrees, repeated failure to file taxes and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, The New York indictment alleges that between 2010 and 2016, Shvo told auction houses his art purchases were to be shipped to the Cayman Islands and thus would not be subject to sales tax.

Prior to his indictment, Blouin Art & Auction had listed Shvo on their Power 100 list of movers and shakers with significant influence in the art world.  The charges he now faces, come at a time when dealers and collectors in the New York art market have started to come under increased scrutiny for offenses from fraud to tax evasion. 

The article printed below, republished with permission from the October 2016 issue of the Maine Antique Digest, shows how disconcerting simple it is to move art around like chess pieces outside the established rules of the game. 

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Real estate developer and collector Michael Shvo, 43, his companies, Shvo Art Ltd. and Seren LLC, and two shipping companies and their principals were indicted on September 8 in New York City for participating in a scheme to evade the payment of more than $1 million in state and local sales and use taxes associated with the purchase of fine art, furniture, jewelry, and a luxury sports vehicle.

The defendants are charged with criminal tax fraud in the second, third, and fourth degrees, falsifying business records in the first degree, and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, among other charges.

“As alleged in the indictment, Michael Shvo went to great lengths to defraud New Yorkers out of more than a million dollars in tax revenue,” said New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in a press release. “This indictment puts other purchasers of fine art on notice: the purposeful evasion of New York State and City taxes is a tax crime, and those who scheme to avoid their obligations will be held criminally and civilly accountable.”

According to court documents, between 2010 and 2016, Shvo engaged in a long-term scheme to evade payment of state and local sales and use taxes on purchases of fine art, furniture, and jewelry. In communications with auction houses and art galleries, Shvo allegedly falsely represented that purchases he made would be shipped to an out-of-state address in the Cayman Islands or other overseas destinations, and therefore no sales tax was collected. Shvo’s purchases were allegedly shipped instead to his office or homes in New York, including an apartment on Columbus Circle and a house in the Hamptons.

Sheridan C.T.S. Hedley (a.k.a. “Tully Hedley”), 33, Guy Drori, 49, and their respective shipping companies, Hedley’s Inc. and Bestguy Moving LLC, are charged with participating in the scheme by providing auction houses and galleries with shipping documentation that deliberately misrepresented the destination of Shvo’s purchases.

It is also alleged that Shvo fraudulently used New York resale certificates, which allow dealers to purchase items solely for the purpose of resale without paying sales tax, in connection with a number of personal purchases, including jewelry valued at more than $65,000 for his wife and furniture for his office in New York.

Shvo evaded payment of New York state and local use taxes on a new Ferrari 458 Spider that he purchased from an out-of-state dealer by establishing a limited liability company in Montana called Seren LLC—named after his wife—and registering the luxury vehicle to the company. According to court documents, no business was ever conducted in Montana and the vehicle was used in New York.

Shvo is accused of evading payments totaling more than $1,000,000 in New York state and local sales and use taxes.

Shvo is alleged to have engaged in a scheme to hide the assets of his company, Shvo Art Ltd., from taxation and evade paying both New York state and New York City corporate taxes on the profits made from the company’s sales of fine art and furniture. Between 2010 and 2016, Shvo Art Ltd. allegedly made efforts to falsely portray the company and its assets as being located offshore, when in fact Shvo operated the company out of his office and homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons. Shvo and his company are charged with failing to file appropriate tax returns and evading the payment of more than $275,000 in corporate tax.

The New York County District Attorney’s Office’s asset forfeiture unit has filed civil papers against Shvo and two of his companies seeking the forfeiture of funds gained through the alleged crimes. In connection with its civil action, the district attorney’s office has secured a temporary restraining order restraining approximately $1.5 million of Shvo’s assets.

To subscribe to the Main Antiquities Digest please see the journal's web link here.

April 16, 2016

Hidden Ownership - the Panama Papers

By;  A.M.C. Knutsson

In recent days numerous articles have been released outlining the role of art in the Panama Papers. (For an outline of the nature of the Panama Papers click here.) Based on these leaked files, journalists have mapped how art has figured within a system of tax avoidance and ownership concealment. Both for the money and for the art, the purpose of these ventures can be described as a superficial repudiation of ownership, in order to fortify the same and to protect the assets from various types of intrusions.  The usage of shell-companies can thus safeguard the real owners from challenges to their ownership as they officially are not the named owners.

One example of this is the case of Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire collector, who according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) used the infamous law firm Mossack Fonseca to protect his ownership of his $2 billion art collection during his divorce proceedings.[1]  The divorce proceedings started in December 2008 and according to Swiss law, which the couple resided under, the two spouses were entitled to equal parts of their wealth. However, Mossack Fonesca had been instrumental in transferring ownership of the collection, which included, among others, paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani and Rothko, to the company Xitrans Finance Ltd in the British Virgin Islands. This meant that they could no longer be found nor considered part of their shared wealth in the divorce proceedings. [2] On April 6 Rybolovlev's family lawyer made a statement claiming that the "description and references to the divorce proceedings of Mr Dmitriy Rybolovlev are misleading", as it "fails to state that the ex-spouses Rybolovlev amicably settled their matrimonial dispute and announced in a joint statement dated 20th October 2015".[3]  He further points to the fact that Xitrans Finance had been established in 2002, several years before the divorce proceedings and that its use "as a holding entity to constitute a remarkable art collection has been publicly disclosed in numerous publications worldwide and is perfectly legitimate.”[4]

Nevertheless, according to the Panama Papers Mossack Fonseca has for decades been helping spouses to shield assets from their better halves. Martin Kenney, an asset recovery specialist based in the British Virgin Islands has been helping wives from numerous countries including the UK, USA and Russia to recover hidden possessions. According to him, “These offshore companies and foundations . . . are instruments in a game of hide and concealment.”[5]

Another type of ownership obscurity can be seen in the case of the Seated Man with a Cane, a Modigliani painting bought in 1996 by the International Art Centre (IAC) and valued at $18-25 million.[6] According to a restitution claim filed by Philippe Maestacci on October 28, 2011, this painting had been looted by the Nazis from his grandfather, the art dealer Oscar Stettiner. Stettiner's inventory had been sold by Marcel Philippon a Nazi-appointed administrator after Stettiner fled from Paris in 1939. The Modigliani had been sold in 1944 and as early as 1946 Stettiner tried to retrieve the work but died two years later without resolving the claim. [7] In 2011 Maestracci picked up the struggle and sued the art dealing Nahmad family, often associated with the IAC, seeking the return of the painting. However, the suit was withdrawn when the Nahmads claimed that the IAC owned the painting and rather than themselves.[8] Indeed the ICIJ has reported that “The Nahmads have insisted in federal and state court in New York that the family does not possess the Modigliani.”[9] The Panama papers have now revealed that the International Art Centre has been owned by the Nahmad family for 20 years and since 2014 the patriarch David Nahmad has been the sole owner.[10] Confronted by the ICIJ David Nahmad's lawyer, Richard Golub, insisted that "Whoever owns the IAC is irrelevant", and the main issue is that Maestracci has no evidence that his grandfather, Stettiner, was the painting's original owner.[11] This standpoint seems not to be commonly shared and on April 8 the Geneva Prosecutor's Office searched the facilities in the Geneva Ports looking for the lost painting.[12] It was later revealed that the painting had been confiscated by the prosecutors during the raid.[13] While the restitution claim remains to be settled the reappearance of the painting and the confirmation of David Nahmad's ownership finally makes it possible for Philippon to proceed with his restitution claim.

According to Anders Rydell who has studied Nazi looted art, this case is not unique but he has found several other cases of Nazi confiscations figuring in the leaked files, which have also been hidden away through shell-companies and thus been beyond the reach of restitution claims. With the release of the Panama Papers he observes that "Maybe the right full owners may get their art back."[14]

In addition to these ownership battles, ample works of art are believed to be hidden away from sight as well as tax through shell-companies in the Free Ports. [15] The story of hidden art has just started to unfold and has still a long way to go. What the new discoveries in the Panama papers reveal is not all that surprising, but rather a sad prediction revealed to be true. The art market has long been known to involve shady deals and international crime syndicates. The revelation that art is hidden away should not be news to any of us, but perhaps the emergence of the Panama Papers actually offers a rare opportunity to resolve some of the long standing mysteries which has troubled the art market. Perhaps this will allow restitution claimants fresh material which can enable them to proceed with their cases. Perhaps long lost paintings will be rediscovered from the bowls of the world's Free Ports. Perhaps not. We will wait and we will see.  

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[1]  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, access 15 April 2016
[2] http://theartnewspaper.com/news/news/panama-papers-russian-billionaire-dmitry-rybolovlev-used-offshore-company-to-hide-art-from-wife-leak/, access 15 April 2016
[3]   Ibid
[4]   Ibid
[5] https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160403-divorce-offshore-intrigue.html
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, access 15 April 2016
[7] http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/news/artnetnews/nahmad-gallery-sued-for-allegedly-looted-modigliani.asp, access 15 April 2016
[8]  http://theartnewspaper.com/news/museums/panama-papers-expose-art-world-s-offshore-secrets-/, access 15 April 2016
[9]  Ibid
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, Access 15 April 2016
[11]  Ibid
[12] http://www.artmarketmonitor.com/2016/04/09/swiss-prosecutors-raid-freeport-looking-for-modigliani/, Access 15 April 2016
[13]  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-11/modigliani-painting-sparks-criminal-probe-and-geneva-art-search, Access 15 April 2016
[14]  http://www.jp.se/article/anders-rydell-om-gomd-nazikonst/, Access 15 April 2016
[15] http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/konst-form/konstvarlden-kopplas-till-panama/, Access 15 April 2016

April 16, 2012

Irish Artist Michelle Rogers Secures Release of 14 Paintings Seized by Police at Gallery Suspected of Tax Fraud and Money Laundering

Michelle Rogers' Lampuedusa (200 x 300 cm)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Fourteen paintings by Irish artist Michelle Rogers seized by police in a raid of a gallery in Rome two years ago were finally released to the artist in March.

Rogers' paintings were held in police custody when a gallery's inventory was taken as part of a police investigation into tax fraud and money laundering.

"The court believed that the paintings belonged to the gallery owner and my fight over the last two years was to get them to realize that the paintings belonged to me," Rogers explained.  "Eventually, after a lot of work by my lawyer and requests from my embassy in Rome, the courts accepted that the art work was mine."

The more than one dozen paintings ranged from 100 x 80 cm to 200 x 300cm.

Michelle Rogers, who also lives part-time in Rome, traveled to Bosnia in 1993 and exhibited works reflecting on the theme of the 9/11 attacks in North America.  Lampeudusa, according to her website, "explores the plight and flight of immigrants of Italy."

Wanted in Rome reported (Return of Michelle Rogers paintings in Rome) that the 14 paintings by Rogers had been exhibited at the Aequalias Contemporary Art Gallery on via Margutta when they were seized in an investigation of the owner, Massimo Micucci, suspected of tax fraud and money laundering for Silvio Scaglia, the billionaire owner of Italian telecommunications company Fastweb.