Many were quick to assume that the FBI raid on Helly Nahmad Gallery was the first in a series of crackdowns on the art trade. A few art market journalists have even questioned the few times that a story about the Nahmads art transactions was published without the ritual recital of the charges against Helly Nahmad for his involvement in a New York poker game.
Robert Kolker’s detailed story on the origins of that game and the ways in which the various persons indicted are related to each other helps give a better picture of what’s going on. None of it has anything to do with art.
Here’s Kolker on Helly Nahmad and Ilya Trincher:
Prosecutors say that Helly and Illya were friends and collaborators in an illegal gambling business that encompassed both sports betting and bookmaking. The money to finance the organization allegedly came from their wealthy fathers (though David Nahmad was not named in the indictment). Vadim is accused of laundering more than $50 million in sports-gambling proceeds through shell companies in Cyprus and the United States, and Helly’s gallery in the Carlyle Hotel stands accused of investing in the gambling business. Helly also allegedly oversaw wire transfers from his father’s bank account in Switzerland. While Helly’s involvement appears to be strictly financial, prosecutors say Illya helped with the collection of debts, allegedly through extortion and threats. […]
Their attorneys will say that the indictment contains little more than innuendo and that the government is arbitrarily combining lesser charges. “We do not believe Mr. Nahmad knowingly violated the law,” one of Helly’s lawyers, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement. They might also argue that everybody plays poker, that this is a victimless enterprise, and that it’s ridiculous for the government to suggest it is protecting anyone involved, when everyone was wealthy enough to handle the stakes and pay whatever might or might not have been raked.
Manhattan Fold ‘Em (New York Magazine)