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Corruption claim shakes art market

Эта картина Пикассо была дважды продана Мэттью Грином, утверждают следователи.
This Picasso, Personnages, was to have been sold twice by Matthew Green, it is claimed. Source: The Times/PABLO PICASSO.

This material belongs to: The Times.

US prosecutors allege that a London dealer plotted to launder cash by selling a Picasso.

In 2016 the art commentator Kenny Schachter gave a damning insight into the world of fine art, describing it as a hotbed of corruption. Two years on and US prosecutors could be about to prove him right.

Last Friday Matthew Green, 50, son of one of the London art world’s most powerful dealers, was charged by the US Department of Justice in connection with alleged money laundering. It is claimed that he offered to use the sale of a Picasso to launder dirty money.

Matthew Green has been charged in connection with alleged money laundering.
Matthew Green has been charged in connection with alleged money laundering. Source: PATRICK MCMULLAN/GETTY IMAGES.

This could prove embarrassing for his family. His father, Richard Green, 81, owns what is reputed to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, stocks of fine art in Britain, including paintings by Turner, Constable and Augustus John, making him the go-to dealer for those who can afford to frequent his two Mayfair galleries.

London has in recent years gained an unwelcome reputation as a money-laundering centre, prompting the creation of a unit to tackle the crime.

Prosecutors allege that the younger Mr Green, one of two sons who followed their father into the art business, offered to use his expertise to launder millions of pounds of apparently dirty money through his own company for a six-figure fee. There is no suggestion that his father or his companies were involved or knew of the alleged scheme.

According to the charge, Matthew Green told an FBI agent posing as a financial fraudster that he could clean his money by selling Picasso’s Personnages, Painted 11 April 1965.

At a meeting last month Mr Green and two alleged accomplices were told by the agent that he was involved in a share-manipulation scheme and needed to launder the cash. This prompted the three men to set out a scheme that would involve the sale and subsequent resale of the painting.

One of Richard Green’s two Mayfair galleries. His collection includes paintings by Turner, Constable and Augustus John.
One of Richard Green’s two Mayfair galleries. His collection includes paintings by Turner, Constable and Augustus John. Source: ALAMY.

The justice department claims that this service did not come cheap. “During the meeting, Matthew Green stated, in part, that it was important for him to make more than a 5 per cent profit on the transaction so he would not be asked why he was ‘in the money-laundering business’, ” the indictment stated. Two weeks later Mayfair Fine Art Limited, owned by Mr Green, is alleged to have sent the agent a £6.7 million invoice for the painting. Based on the fees allegedly discussed, the art dealer might have expected a commission of at least £335,000, though the sale never took place. A WhatsApp message allegedly sent by Mr Green to one of his fellow defendants and shown to the agent made clear that he hoped to keep his dealings below the radar. “We need to preserve a certain amount of anonymity which [the undercover agent] and I discussed at the Arts Club!” Mr Green is alleged to have written.

He has yet to respond to the charge. The justice department has confirmed one arrest out of the six charged as a result of the investigation. No applications for extradition have been made.

Matthew Green is a former director of several of his father’s companies and it is not clear if he has any involvement in the family businesses. Richard Green and his gallery have not been accused of any wrongdoing. In a statement the gallery said: “The Richard Green Gallery is aware that charges have been made against Matthew Green in the context of his ownership of Mayfair Fine Art Limited. The Richard Green Gallery has no knowledge of, or any involvement with, these allegations but fully supports the establishment of the facts in the case.”

Behind the story

Fine art dealing is both lucrative and ruthless, and few have survived as long at the top as Richard Green, 81, the owner of Richard Green Fine Paintings.

Richard Green, 81, the owner of Richard Green Fine Paintings
Richard Green. Source: The Times.

Mr Green’s father, Jimmy, opened his first gallery at 4 St James’s Street in 1936, the year of his son’s birth.

After leaving school at 15, Richard worked with his father before striking out alone in 1955.

Today his is one of the largest art dealerships in the world. According to Companies House, the group held paintings and other art works valued at £73 million at the end of 2016. Such holdings make him a force.

The latest listings feature works such as Turner’s Whitstable Oyster Beds, a 1820s watercolour; four sculptures by Dame Barbara Hepworth, including Maquette for Dual Form from 1965; and Constable’s 1813 oil Flatford Lock on the Stour looking towards Bridge Cottage.

Mr Green has continued to make art-dealing a family business. His sons, Matthew and Jonathan, have worked at his galleries. Two years ago they were named as the major bidders at a Christie’s sale in New York, spending almost $5 million on works by Monet and Chagall. According to the dealer’s website, Jonathan runs his father’s Old Master gallery. No mention is made of Matthew.