A true crime story by a UK investigative reporter who set up one of the two largest global art auction houses following a major tip-off. Peter’s findings of consistent fraud perpetuated from the top down (over decades) mirrors my experiences finding that indeed corruption truly does exist the world over but that it takes a conscious effort to fight it. Enjoy!
In future posts I intend to share more information from around the King Country, specifically teaching how evil manifests through deceit. In this regard I hope to share how deceivers try to hide their acts of greed (and more) with acts of deception. I will share how people like from Phoebe Harrison/Montgomery from RDC (Ruapehu District Council), Megan McKinstry from LINZ (Land Information New Zealand) and even a retired Pastor and his wife Laurie & Carolyn Bull all attempt to tell stories about others to puff themselves up, even trying to put themselves above the law.
Over the Christmas break I spent time going through a bunch of books donated to us, one was called Sotheby’s Inside Story. The giftor of this book to our fledgling library had included a bunch of newspaper clippings showing that the US owner had also been found guilty of white collar criminal offences. This book really got its teeth into Sotheby’s and the people involved. Their presence in New Zealand is now mainly auctioning upper-end property but some other artifacts have been challenged too:
The book reveals that the entire team at Sotheby’s (some 1400x people at the time) from the board down either knew of (or should have known of) or they actively participated in the crimes of securing, smuggling, selling, operating dodgy auctions and so on and so on. It was a compelling read despite my own similar early experiences in larger operations where the dollar rules and morality becomes flexible.
The bottom line is that it takes real guts to stand for truth in a sea of BS. Most of us can’t do this, but some of us do.
From the get go, I was captured . . .
“I was nervous. Today was the first instalment in a complicated and delicate undercover operation which, if successful, would finally confirm that one of the world’s most prestigious auction houses, Sotheby’s, flouted the law in the most striking way”.Page 1.
Peter shared a little of his search for an angle for his TV documentary. When he considered how complex things could get in the art auction world, he chose to keep it simple:
“The auction process is supposed to be open, clear, clean. But our documents showed that that was simply not true – there were all manner of opportunities for auctions to be rigged. What was apparently clear was in fact very murky. That, I decided, was what we would show to the rest of the programme: how easy it is to rig auctions. Everyone could understand that.Page 143 .
It doesn’t matter what the cultural, time frame or industry we are talking about, there is always opportunity for opportunists to make hay at anothers’ expense. In his commentary Peter shares his shock of how arrogant these people had become. This was not a single stolen and smuggled piece, nor a dozen, nor hundred nor even thousands of artefacts, this was tens of thousands over decades he was talking of – for example more than 7500x items sold through one Japanese dealer alone!
“… I was dumbfounded. The shameless nature of the law-breaking which it [the one of many documents] describes is sobering… The arrogant way in which Sotheby’s removed Italian paintings from under the noses of the Italian law enforcement agencies, and the copious documentation which described this appalling trade, was just crying out for the exposure that eventually it received.”Page 166/7.
While his first TV programme focussed on Sotheby’s smuggling, he wanted to broaden the subject in the second whack at it. In regards to developing the second TV programme, Peter said,
“All that was very successful [the first TV programme] but it was not enough … The whole point of making the second programme … was to show that wrongdoing [by Sotheby’s] went well beyond smuggling – that the wrongdoing inside the company was widespread and sophisticated.”Page 169.
Not only was the wrongdoing wider than smuggling it was also higher. This is very common in the corporate world. In this particular industry it is called “rigging the market” where people with power use it to gain even more power. Board-level knowledge (even tacit complicity) is certain because this is just the way things ‘work’. Boards will bring in ‘expertise’ and then enable crooks to do the needful.
The significance of the scheme lay in the fact that it showed Sotheby’s as willing at least to contemplate what amounted to a rigging of the market as early as the mid-1970s. And it concerned the higher levels: Lord Westmorland and his cousin Peter Wilson were both involved”.Page 204.
Sometimes the way things work is that they law is not so much broken – it is that the laws may be bent somewhat. Judges may not be paid off per se, but it is a ‘scratch-my-back and I’ll scratch yours’ situation for sure. Peter will know this and explains it here quite carefully.
“… Sotheby’s, in offering to advise secretly … got an inside track on who had what, who was thinking of selling what, and at what price. The company was in effect using … as a Tojan horse. Sotheby’s no doubt saw this as sound commercial sense; others may see it as sharp practice.Page 205.
He also gives them credit:
“… a publication that set apart from the other auction houses and epitomised the ‘price-is-all’ regime … was the Art Market Bulletin. For Hodges had passed me a document that appeared to vitiate the whole process”.Page 217.
… and then talks of the potential for a “conflict of interest”. The cynic in me says, “Well, of course!”
“This aspect of the … memo is most interesting, for it raises the possibility that Sotheby’s were simultaneously entering into relationships with three major bodies to guide their collecting habits … Was this sound commercial practice, or was it a massive conflict of interest … ? How much this did or did not interfere with normal market forces is impossible to say, but the risk of a conflict of interest was very real.Page 231.
And there you have it explained as the way that crooks operate – in the dark, or as this author puts it – “low-key”.
“The company had an interest in keeping [the trial] as low-key as possible”.Page 261.