This didn’t just threaten Oesterlund’s fortune. It also had the potential to carve open a portal into the world of offshore finance, a place that the global elite has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build and defend. In the offshore archipelago, their interests are hidden behind shell companies and trusts, their anonymity guaranteed under the law, from Delaware to the Bahamas to the South Pacific. James S. Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey, calls the offshore financial world the “economic equivalent of an astrophysical black hole,” holding at least $21 trillion of the world’s financial wealth, more than the gross domestic product of the United States.
Deutsche Bank’s $10-Billion Scandal
On an April evening in Moscow, I met with a broker who had intimate knowledge of the structure of the mirror trades. The city was emerging from the choking cold of winter, and young people flirted outside Paveletskaya Station as if it were high summer. As the broker and I walked across the square, he characterized mirror trades as just one of a thousand ruses employed by smart businessmen. But why, I asked him, would somebody with a prominent position at a major bank get involved in such a scheme? Wiswell’s annual compensation was in the region of a million and a half dollars. The broker laughed. He said that Wiswell had been paid handsomely by clients of the mirror trades. For the architects of the scheme, the broker explained, it was worth it to bribe someone inside the bank: “Guys always pay something. They think it will hook you, so you are not going to do unexpected things.” In the estimation of the broker, Wiswell was a useful functionary but hardly a criminal genius. Sometimes, the broker said, money was transferred into an offshore account maintained by Wiswell’s wife, and sometimes cash was delivered to Wiswell in a bag.
The Daredevil of the Auction World
With contemporary art having become an important investment vehicle for the superwealthy—a profitable and fun place for the rich to park their money—collectors are no longer necessarily connoisseurs. Gouzer is disdainful of the novice client who shows no interest in an artist’s catalogue raisonné, and who wants to know only if the piece he is buying is considered to be in the top ten of the artist’s works. “It’s very much an Instagram way of buying,” he grumbled to me this spring. “You see an image, and you make a decision.” Yet his approach could not be better calculated to appeal to such consumers. Last November, a colleague at Christie’s brought to auction a Modigliani painting of a voluptuous woman, “Reclining Nude,” which had a presale estimate of a hundred million dollars. Gouzer posted an image of the painting on Instagram and offered this unscholarly observation: “Difficult to say which you would want more, the painting for a lifetime or the model for a night?”
Zimbabwe’s trillion-dollar note: from worthless paper to hot investment
In an extraordinary irony, the 100 trillion dollar note – a symbol of financial mismanagement on a colossal scale – has turned into one of the best-performing asset classes of recent years.
What Tech’s Unicorn Cult Can Learn from the Art World
The art world knows about prices floating ever higher on abstraction and hope. The resonances aren’t completely coincidental. Both venture capitalists and art buyers are in the business of valuing the invaluable. Both stake their reputations on exquisite selection. Both nurture talent before it can support itself. Both have a soft spot for youth, for unbowed ego, for the myth of solitary genius, for the next new thing. Both operate in a world of frustratingly limited information and maddeningly unpredictable success. Both depend on consumer culture while holding themselves superior to it. And both the art market and venture investing have become increasingly winner-take-all games, with more clout to the companies and artists backed by the most powerful dealers or venture capitalists.
Credit : Harold Cunningham