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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Stolen Art Watch, Quebec Art Heist Focuses On Michael Morse Crew As Billionaire Awaits French Jury Verdict

Above, "Mr Big" Lawyer Michael Morse 

Michael Morse crew, Ray Hobin, Darryl Vincent, Ira Hussey Aaron Sherman Sergei Khatchaturov and sibling Yurii Khatchaturov

Aaron Sherman's mother Penny used to roll with the Michael Morse gang, Ray Hobin, Darryl Vincent, Ira Hussey etc.

How about Sergei Khatchaturov and sibling Yurii Khatchaturov or Hines and Gagne ?

Art stolen from Steinberg heir likely to go to organized crime: expert

Dozens of paintings stolen from the residence of a wealthy couple in the Laurentians are likely destined to end up in the hands of organized crime figures who use artworks as currency, an expert on the subject says.
Earlier this week, 25 to 30 paintings were stolen from a home in Ivry-sur-le-Lac owned by Mitzi Steinberg-Dobrin, heir to the former Steinberg grocery chain and her husband, Mel Dobrin, a former president of the chain, La Presse reported.
Some of the paintings are estimated to be worth more than $100,000. The town of Ivry-sur-le-Lac is about 110 kilometres north of Montreal. Experts with the Sûreté du Québec’s investigative unit specializing in stolen artwork are working on the case along with colleagues based in the Laurentians, police spokesperson Sgt. Annie Thibodeau said.
The couple could not be reached for comment. Their son told La Presse his parents had amassed a large collection of artwork over four decades. The theft appears to be an expert job because the thieves managed to turn off the home’s alarm system, and they were apparently selective with the paintings they chose. 
Alain Lacoursière, a former detective with the Montreal police who specialized in recovering stolen artwork, said valuable stolen paintings often end up in the hands of organized crime figures even if they can never be hung on a wall and appreciated for their beauty.
“To people in organized crime, they represent 20 per cent of the cash value of the painting. They are easy to transport and they are easy to get across a border,” he said, adding he has seen cases where expensive paintings ended up in Russia or Colombia and were used to purchase drugs from drug traffickers based in those countries.
“The artwork remains a form of currency throughout. They remain hidden away in a closet. It’s not like in the movies, where some guy who really appreciates art has a secret room in his mansion (where he displays it). I have never seen that in my entire career.”
One case that stands out in his memory involved artwork stolen from homes in Westmount and Outremont during the late 1990s that was found in October 2000 in the Laval home of Joseph Ghaleb, a notorious loanshark who had ties to the Hells Angels and the Montreal Mafia who was murdered in 2004. 
Last month, police in Italy recovered two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh in a farmhouse near Castellammare di Stabia that investigators linked to two Camorra drug kingpins, Mario Cerrone and Raffaele Imperiale. The paintings had been stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002, and were found hidden in a safe wrapped in a cloth.
Lacoursière, who now has an appraisal company, Expertises Alain Lacoursière, said that the list of people in Quebec who could have pulled of such a heist is a very short one.
“There are three guys, maybe five tops, who can pull off a job like that – where they know a lot about art. You have to possess a great deal of knowledge about art to do something like that,” Lacoursière said. And he means three people in particular. “The Sûreté du Québec knows who they are and will likely want to talk to them.”
The Sûreté du Québec is asking anyone with information on the theft to contact them at 1-800-659-4264.

Billionaire Art Dealer Is Awaiting Verdict in Tax Fraud Case

The art dealer Guy Wildenstein. A tribunal is expected to rule on his fraud case in January. Credit Eric Feferberg/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

PARIS — The tax fraud trial of Guy Wildenstein, the billionaire international art dealer, ended here Thursday night and a prosecutor asked the tribunal of judges hearing the case to sentence Mr. Wildenstein to two years in prison on charges that he helped shield a vast art collection in a maze of foreign trusts.
The tribunal at the Palais de Justice will now spend nearly three months weighing a decision in the case that ensnared Mr. Wildenstein, 70, his nephew and his estranged sister-in-law, along with his team of Swiss and French legal advisers and foreign trust companies. Authorities are also asking the judges to levy a 250 million euro fine (about $275 million) on Mr. Wildenstein, who is president of Wildenstein & Co. in New York art gallery.
On Thursday, Olivier Géron, the lead judge on the tribunal, set Jan. 12 as the date that judges will deliver a ruling on the case, which started a month ago.
Monica d’Onofrio, the prosecutor on the case, has demanded severe punishment for Mr. Wildenstein, calling the family’s financial operations “the longest and the most sophisticated tax fraud” in contemporary France. Part of a newly created financial prosecution unit, she called for an actual sentence of four years in prison for Mr. Wildenstein with two of those years suspended.
Mr. Wildenstein is accused of underestimating inheritance taxes after his father, Daniel, died at 84 in 2001 in France. Prosecutors contend that Mr. Wildenstein and his brother, Alec, schemed to hide art and assets under the ownership of complex trusts and abruptly moved millions of dollar in artworks to Switzerland from New York days after their father died.
The trial exposed in numbing detail the financial strategies of the wealthy family — with a presence in the art world dating back four generations to 1875 — and their use of artwork owned by trusts and stored in Switzerland to reap income from bank loans against the rising value of the paintings.
Mr. Wildenstein has steadfastly maintained he was unaware of the details of the trusts and has contended that he was following a strategy that is more accepted in countries outside France. His lawyers also argued that reporting a trust was not clearly required by French tax authorities until 2011 — years after Daniel Wildenstein’s death.
In addition to the fine asked for by the prosecutor, French tax authorities are seeking back taxes of more than 550 million euros — or roughly $600 million — in connection with the family inheritance from Daniel Wildenstein.
The Wildenstein family has long maintained a mystique because no one knew what rested in their vaults in New York and Tokyo and a research institute in Paris. The institute was raided in 2011 by police investigators who seized about 30 works reported missing or stolen by previous owners.
Those works, still in police custody, remain part of separate legal proceedings. At the trial, one of the daily spectators was Alexandre Bronstein, who is pressing a criminal lawsuit in connection with some of the seized works — a missing bronze by the Italian sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti and two Degas drawings that he contends belong to his family.
“I’m here to see if the truth comes out,” Mr. Bronstein said. He said he had been struck by testimony from a family trust banker who said trust officials never conducted an independent financial evaluation of the 2,500 works in Daniel Wildenstein’s estate. “That means they can keep art works in storage in Switzerland for two or three generations and if there is problem with the provenance, no one will know. The bank knows only what the family told them.”
Those works were valued at about $1.1 billion before Daniel Wildenstein’s death. Since then about 675 of the works have been sold, raising about $238 million for family members from the collection that is now valued at about $875 million, according to court testimony. The remaining works are now stored in the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.
The rest of the seven defendants in the case face lesser punishments recommended by the prosecutor, including suspended sentences for Mr. Wildenstein’s nephew, Alec Jr., and Liouba Stoupakova, the widow of Alec Wildenstein (who died in 2008). Two trusts — the Northern Trust Fiduciary Services in Guernsey, a Channel island that is part of Britain; and the Royal Bank of Canada Trust Company in the Cayman Islands — could end up paying fines of more than $200,000 for “complicity in tax fraud.”

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