According to the findings of a United States Senate investigation released Wednesday, shortly after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russian construction billionaires Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, the duo illegally spent over $18 million on art in the U.S. At least $14 million in sales came from 11 works of art, including paintings by René Magritte, Marc Chagall, and Georges Braque that were purchased only two months after the sanctions were imposed.
The first 10 works were purchased at a Sotheby’s sale in New York, while Magritte’s 1961 painting Chest was purchased from a private dealer in the U.S. It is illegal for a U.S.-based company to have any financial exchanges with sanctioned individuals, so those caught dealing with the Rotenbergs could face massive fines or jail time. Art dealers however, are not required by U.S. law to know the identity of the purchaser, and blue-chip sales of these magnitudes are often transacted through an intermediary, as was the case here.
In total, the report alleges the brothers spent or moved around $91 million in U.S. dollars following the sanctions, $18.4 million of which was in art and antiques. The brothers are said to be members of Putin’s inner circle, and the Senate’s 150-page report, which declares the U.S. art market to be “the largest, legal unregulated industry in the United States,” even includes an image of Arkady practicing judo with the Russian president.
Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, who led the report along with Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, said on the occasion of the report’s release: