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Chris Badger Explains Fine Art Enforcement

19 April 2021

This blog post is the part of a series profiling Chris Badger AHCEO, our legal and compliance director, who possesses extensive experience managing specialist and high profile cases on behalf of the Royal Courts of Justice. If you require the services of a High Court Enforcement Officer or would like to receive specialist advice for an upcoming case, please contact Just today on 020 3848 9060


 

In relation to fine artwork, I recall a case where we were instructed by a central London Law Firm who had secured a substantial judgment in respect of non-payment of their legal costs against a debtor who resided outside of the Jurisdiction in Brazil.

He was actually a former Brazilian politician that had been charged and convicted of fraudulent activities and over a period of time had laundered money by way of purchasing a very substantial collection of items of fine art and ephemera.

As many will know, the world of high-end artwork and antiquities can prove attractive for money laundering as once purchased, the art can disappear from view for years or even decades. However, in this case, the artwork in question was held within the Jurisdiction of England & Wales.

Pre-enforcement: Research, Planning and Permission

Our research had established that this gentleman held a number of items at the Cadogan Tate Fine Art Storage facility which is located in South West London but is part of a wider network of art storage facilities with branches in New York, Los Angeles, Paris and the Côte d’Azur.

So armed with this information, I went to meet the CEO of Cadogan Tate to explain that we were instructed and had received a Writ of control from the High Court and to seek his consent for our team to access his Fine Art facility enabling the items to be seized.

Now interestingly Cadogan Tate were also owed some money by the defendant. In view of this we were able to reach an agreement that they would assist us, they would provide us with their own recommended Fine Art Expert who would help us with the process and in return we would also endeavour to recover the monies owed to Cadogan Tate from any proceeds of sale that were achieved and treat their claim as a first charge on monies recovered.

The expert that we engaged was a former Chief Operating Officer for Christie's who had a vast amount of experience. Before proceeding we obtained the relevant and required permission from the court to attend the premises of Cadogan Tate as these were  third-party premises and subsequently made an attendance. 

The Enforcement Visit: Chris Badger HCEO attends to Secure the Artwork. 

As we entered the Fine Art Facility, we found a number of crates housing a wide variety of different items. We were escorted to the area where the Defendant’s crates were stored. We then arranged a full inspection of the contents using appropriately qualified experts. There were drawings, paintings and photographs by famous photographers including Man Ray, Brassai and William Henry Fox Talbot.

There was also a collection of ephemera and that included letters from the likes of Winston Churchill and a number of other very famous world leaders and other notables, and it was a very fascinating collection of items and artwork.

Once we had carefully catalogued everything that was within our control we then proceeded, with the guidance from our expert from Christie's, to engage with a number of different auction houses throughout London and ensured that we sold the right items at the right auction house to achieve the best possible value for the creditor. 

This is a very important part of the enforcement process because as the High Court Enforcement Officer you are responsible for ensuring that you sell the goods by the appropriate means in order to obtain the best price.

This is true for each and every case, but high value enforcement cases involve a greater financial risk. In this example, we had to be extremely well researched to ensure that each item was placed with an Auctioneer of appropriate expertise, to mitigate the risk undervaluing these priceless items.

If any item was sold below fair value, it’s possible the auction can be set aside on application to the court which would be a quite complex problem should that  occur in practice. 

Post Enforcement: Third Party Claims, Auction Houses & A Last Minute Hitch  

What then followed was there are a number of claims from third parties claiming ownership of the items in the collection, but nothing materialised within the legal channels. Consequently, we began the process of selling the items.

However, shortly before one of the famous photographs was due to be sold in central London, our team were contacted by a representative from the Art Loss Register who communicated that a number of these items had been reported to them and may in fact have been stolen. 

This resulted in some rather frantic discussions with the management team of the Art Loss Register to validate this claim and establish the providence of the items. Thankfully, in this case, we were able to establish the artwork was legally obtained and the sale was permitted to proceed

As a result, we obtained permission to sell the items from the Art Loss Register which took place on schedule as planned and resulted in the recovery of the full amount due to the Creditor. 

So, this story has a successful conclusion. The creditor in question was very happy to receive repayment and, in the process, I became something of an expert on how to secure priceless photography, establish its value and deal with complex cases involving artwork.

Want to hear more from Chris Badger? Find out How To Seize A Boeing 767 using a High Court Writ 


Chris Badger AHCEO is a regular speaker at industry events and can provide specialist advice on how to best enforce complex and high value writs of execution under the authority of the High Court of England and Wales.

If you require the services of a High Court Enforcement Officer for a specialist case, please contact Just today on 020 3848 9060