Just when it looked like the New York Times was revealing the breadth of unregulated markets that can be used to hide the transfer of assets and other activities that can be used for money laundering, the paper reminds us just how closely intertwined the real estate and art markets are with its profile of Jho Low, a Malaysian investor and art collector:
In fact, in-depth scrutiny of real estate deals is not required. International anticorruption organizations have criticized this lack of inquiry — not just by real estate brokers and condo boards, but by banks, lawyers and the federal government.
“People should ask the questions, ‘Why is it that this individual is bringing in millions of dollars into America, and how was it acquired?’” said Charmian Gooch, co-founder of Global Witness, a nongovernmental organization that works against corruption around the world. […]
Janice Chang, the broker the Douglas Elliman firm identified as representing the buyer, said, “We work with a lot of people; sometimes we know them and sometimes we don’t.” She added: “They’re very confidential. We try not to pry.” […]
As befits the modern scion, Mr. Low has lately begun trading in another asset class: contemporary art. His entry into the art market has generated buzz both for his youth and for the fact that he has become such a significant force so fast. Last summer, he made the ARTnews list of the world’s 200 leading private collectors.
The art market is even more opaque than real estate, so that list is based not on actual sales data but on the assessments of people in the industry who know about collectors’ holdings. According to two people familiar with Mr. Low’s activities in the art world, though, he has taken a liking to pop art.
“Inserting a Jho Low at the top of the market — who buys pictures over $20 million, $30 million, $40 million — it swings the market,” one of them said.
To the public, of course, the purchaser is anonymous. But among the purchases Mr. Low has been involved in, they said, are Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Dustheads,” for $48.8 million.
Asked if his family owned the painting, Mr. Low said he “did not purchase ‘Dustheads’ artwork on behalf of any investor.” Asked about his involvement in the art market, he replied, “The Low family is interested in fine art.”