Auction houses must comply with probe into sanctioned Russian assets – ARTnews.com
Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, the world’s three largest auction houses, will comply with ongoing international efforts targeting assets held by sanctioned Russian business tycoons.
On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department released details of an international task force it says will target ‘high-value’ and ‘luxury’ assets held by blacklisted Russians with ties to the president. Vladimir Poutine. Bankers, energy barons and politicians will be among those investigated by the task force, known as Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs (REPO).
Those involved in the task force will likely investigate the assets of various sanctioned art collectors in the US, UK and EU, including Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, Alisher Usmanov and family members. Rotenberg.
Spokespersons for Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips said the companies would comply with potential investigations by law enforcement. The sanctions already bar houses from dealing with blacklisted Russians and their overseas affiliates.
“We are absolutely rigorous in adhering to current sanctions and are closely monitoring any updates to the listings,” a Sotheby’s spokesperson said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Christie’s said the house adheres to “strict client identification and screening processes” and that “politically exposed persons and those with a connection to a sanctioned jurisdiction or other high-risk jurisdictions are subject to enhanced due diligence”.
Along with other major Western companies operating offices in Russia, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have temporarily closed their offices in Moscow. These spaces are relatively small operations, with three or fewer employees occupying them in both cases. Phillips still maintains its Moscow satellite with administrative staff; no commercial transactions pass through the office. Christie’s and Sotheby’s also recently canceled sales of Russian art in response to the escalating conflict.
The REPO investigation has already led to the seizure of superyachts belonging to Russian oligarchs. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said officials are determining whether assets directly and indirectly related to sanctioned individuals or entities “are subject to forfeiture.” (Russian numbers have lost about $83 billion since the invasion of Ukraine, which is about a third of the collective wealth of the oligarchs, CNBC reported.)
According to the Treasury Department, the REPO also targets “enablers and gatekeepers who facilitated the movement of sanctioned assets or other illicit funds.” The move raises questions about how arts businesses that deal internationally and hold proprietary account information linked to sanctioned individuals will be affected by the investigation.
It’s unclear whether the auction houses could be hit by war-related economic sanctions. Industry experts have pointed out that Russian oligarchs are less powerful in the art market than they once were, accounting for fewer deals overall after the Hong Kong market surged around 2015. Spokespersons for Christie’s and Phillips both said customers in Russia accounted for 1% of each home’s respective total sales in 2021. (These figures do not include advisors and affiliates transacting on behalf of customers. Russians based outside the country.)
There are still looming economic consequences that could affect the major auction houses, which have spent the last year expanding their presence in the Asia-Pacific region. China remains a key partner for Russia, trading around $147 billion a year. Chinese companies could still face secondary sanctions that could weigh on the country’s financial network.