Federal authorities in New York have subpoenaed auction houses for records linked to sanctioned Russian businesspeople as sprawling investigations into those figures continue. Bloomberg, which first reported the news, did not specify which of the auction houses were subpoenaed, although it is possible that Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips—the three largest ones in the city—who may have been contacted by investigators.
Leading the investigation are officials with the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York and the federal KleptoCapture task force.
Auction houses are being asked to turn over years of internal records as part of the probe looking into art-related transactions and the potentially illicit movement of sale proceeds via offshore accounts.
Last year, auction houses were scrutinized because they had previously done business with a small coterie of Russians. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, authorities initiated efforts to halt a network of wealth advisors. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips told ARTnews at the time that they would comply with law enforcement over inquiries related to sanctioned individuals.
In a statement regarding news of the recent subpoenas, a Sotheby’s spokesperson said, “We are constantly tailoring and updating our policies to take account of the significant responsibility to conduct business worldwide in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and in a responsible and ethical manner.”
A Phillips spokesperson said the house “works closely with those involved in sanctions enforcement” and has “measures” in place that keep sanctioned individuals and anyone related to them from doing business there. A representative for Christie’s did not immediately respond to ARTnews‘s request for comment.
Art collectors Andrey Melnichenko, Viktor Vekselberg, and Roman Abramovich were among the high-profile Russian moguls named in the investigation, according to Bloomberg. Ukrainian oil magnate Ihor Kolomoisky, who has recently been eyed on corruption charges, was also named.
Auction houses have been the subject of investigations abroad. In December, the leader of the UK’s National Crime Agency said he had found “success” in combating attempts by oligarchs to orchestrate “high value asset sales” with auction houses.
That statement was made in relation to a probe affecting sanctioned Russian energy magnate Mikhail Fridman, who was apprehended by UK authorities in London that month on charges of money laundering. Representatives for Christie’s and Sotheby’s did not respond to ARTnews‘s inquiry regarding whether the houses were affected by investigations led from the UK.