US$137 million worth of art thought to have been purchased with misappropriated funds

A Malaysian financier purchased multimillionaire dollar art works including two paintings by Claude Monet using funds stolen from a government investment fund, artnet news reports.

According to documents released by the US Department of Justice, hundreds of millions of dollars were transferred from Jho Low’s 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) fund to a personal account named “Tanore”. Between May and September 2013, the Tanore funds were used to purchase around US$137 million (£104 million) worth of art. The documents were released after a press conference held in Washington yesterday (20 July) at which federal prosecutors announced plans to launch one of the biggest asset seizures in US history from those linked to the 1MDB fund.

Among the art works thought to have been purchased with misappropriated funds are Monet’s scene of Venice ‘Saint Georges-Majeur’ acquired by Low in 2013 for US$35 million (£27 million). In June 2014, Low purchased Monet’s ‘Nympheas avec Reflets de Hautes Herbes’ from Sotheby’s London for US$57.5 million (£33.8 million) with funds traceable to the Tanore account. Tanore funds were also used to purchase five artworks at a charity sale jointly organised by Christie’s and actor Leonardo DiCaprio in May 2013, and works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko and Vincent Van Gogh.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Low soon built a reputation for himself on the art scene as a young billionaire with a penchant for highly-priced art works. As word spread he was approached by several fine art dealers and auction specialists eager to sell him their paintings. When approached, these specialists denied direct involvement in sales or did not immediately respond to voicemail messages left on their cellphones.

Christie’s auction house claims to have ended its dealings with Low upon learning of the federal investigation into 1MDB’s holdings, citing its rigorous anti-money-laundering. In a statement, Sotheby’s affirmed that ‘it always cooperates with government investigations’.



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