Jho Low Used Goldman Sachs to Illicitly Buy Van Gogh Work
A Vincent van Gogh drawing, and two Claude Monet paintings are among works that the US government is seeking to seize.
You have to wade through a considerable amount of detail in the Wall Street Journal‘s extremely thorough analysis of Malaysian financier Jho Low and the billions of dollars in funds investigators believe were embezzled from his 1MDB fund, before you get to the art part of the scandal.
As artnet News reported this past July, a Vincent van Gogh drawing, and two Claude Monet paintings are among works that the US government is seeking to seize, but there are more works named in the papers to which Jho Low is seemingly connected.
According to the Journal: “In 2012, Goldman Sachs sold $3.5 billion in 1MDB bonds in two offerings, which were cleared by committees that included some of the firm’s most senior officials, people involved in the transactions said. Goldman earned hundreds of millions of dollars in fees on the bonds, which carried a safe, sovereign-risk profile and were bought by foreign institutional investors.”
Some of the money was used for stated intended purposes, including buying power plants, but nearly half of the money was sent to offshore shell companies controlled by Low and his associates, according to the Journal via the Justice Department.
1MDB fund approached Goldman a second time in 2013 to sell $3 billion of bonds, and requested that the money be deposited in an account at BSI AG, a small private bank in Switzerland, according to the Journal. Roughly half of these proceeds ended up in offshore accounts overseen by Low’s associate Eric Tan, according to the Justice Department.
Tan reportedly used the money to acquire more than $100 million worth of artworks, including a pen and ink drawing by Van Gogh, La maison de Vincent à Arles for $5.5 million at Christie’s in November 2013.
Reportedly, Tan told Christie’s “please do not have Mr. Low in any document.” When he later transferred ownership of the works to Low, he allegedly classified them as gifts, saying the works “should not in any event be construed as an act of corruption,” according to letters cited by the Justice Department.
Christie’s told the Journal it has a strict anti-money-laundering program and ceased doing business with Low after it learned he was under investigation. “By the spring of 2014, Mr. Low valued his art collection at $350 million and wanted to use that as collateral for a loan,” according to emails cited by the Justice Department.
Low emailed SNS Fine Arts, a private New York dealership. Low asked SNS for advice on possible lenders and said he was searching for backers that “wouldn’t follow know-your-customer rules too closely,” according to the Journal.
SNS declined to comment to the Journal. In 2015, Connery founded Connery & Associates. artnet News reached out to him for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
Follow artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.