The Wildenstein family of art dealers sold more than 600 pieces since the turn of the century, generating around $300 million in cash to fund their lifestyle, and has works worth nearly three times that much in storage, according to a banker who has intricate financial knowledge of the clan’s dealings.
Daniel Wildenstein created an offshore trust in the Bahamas in 1998 to lodge 2,500 works from the art dealer’s collection. A Royal Bank of Canada unit managed it, and a representative told a Paris court this week that its sole purpose was to provide funds for the family.
“There were sales in order to generate the money for making distributions to support their lifestyles,” RBC’s Brian Taylor said during the third day of the trial of Daniel’s son, Guy, and grandson, Alec Junior. They stand accused of hiding assets worth hundreds of millions of euros to slash inheritance taxes after Daniel’s death in 2001.
The trial at Paris’ criminal court, which will last until Oct. 20, provides insight on the family’s business secrets, which were so fiercely held that Guy Wildenstein said he didn’t learn of many of the financial machinations until his father’s death.
When he transferred the works of art to the so-called Delta Trust in the Bahamas, Daniel had valued the assets at $1.1 billion. The trustee at the time didn’t second-guess that assessment, and neither did the current one, the Royal Bank of Canada Trust Co.
The collection held by the trust has been gradually thinned, with around 71 million euros ($79.7 million) distributed between 2001 and 2004, including more than 30 million euros in works of art, Taylor told the court. About 675 works have been sold since then, generating about $238 million for family members, he said.
A lot still remains untouched. No cash distributions have been made to the family since the end of 2013, leaving a collection worth approximately $875 million sitting in storage in the U.S., Switzerland and Singapore, Taylor said.
“Currently, I don’t have much left. I have to check but I’ve got less than $1 million,” said Alec Junior Wildenstein, who got $4 million in proceeds from the sale of several Pierre Bonnard works around 2013. “We haven’t received any distribution in the last few years.”