What Does Leonardo Da Vinci Have To Do With Trump And Russia? A HOLY SH*T Investigation Into WHAT THE F*CK!

The saga of the greatest political conspiracy in modern history is getting weird now. Not that it wasn't weird before, but it's officially even weirder than when Michael Avenatti, Ice Cube and Qatar all ended up in the same story.

We had heard and read rumblings over the past few months about how the sale of this one painting -- the most expensive art sale ever, of an extremely rare da Vinci that might not even be a da Vinci, or if it is, it might have been painted by Leonardo's weird cousin Billy Ray da Vinci -- might be one of the keys to unlocking the whole conspiracy, but Jesus, really? A painting? Some picture of Jesus holding a bowl of fruit in one hand and flipping the camera off with the other? The fuck? (OK, that's not really what Jesus is doing in the painting.)

But Trump-Russia journalist Zev Shalev has written the narrative out in such a way that we think it's time we all pay attention. First of all, some basic facts.

The painting in question is called "What Are You Doing Up In That Tree, Jesus?" the Salvator Mundi, and it depicts Jesus with an orb in one hand and doing some kind of Jesus thing with his other hand. It's known in art circles as an homage to the Mona Lisa, which was kind of da Vinci's big break in eventually having a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle named after him. And as we mentioned, it was recently sold for $450 million in what was the most expensive art transaction of all time. The buyer? Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, because all murder-happy Muslim crown princes like to come home to a nice picture of Jesus over the mantel after a hard day of ordering journalists bone-sawed to death. He seems to have overpaid for the painting, by about $300 million. The seller? Dmitry Rybolovlev, the fertilizer oligarch, one of Putin's closest associates and a guy who's shown up in the august pages of Wonkette very recently.

Wait, Who The Fuck Is Dmitry Rybolovlev?

He is the Russian oligarch with the hardest name to say, but he's known for other stuff too! In our recent seven-million word Carrie Mathison magnum opus/deep dive/fever dream into where we think the Russia investigation is going next, we spent some time with Rybolovlev, whose name is appearing more and more in stories these days.

Remember back in 2008 when Donald Trump unloaded a South Florida mansion for $95 million, after picking it up for basically nothing AKA $41 million? Rybolovlev was the buyer, in a transaction that people have been pointing at and saying "MAYBE MONEY LAUNDERING YOU THINK?" ever since it happened, not least because Trump had only had it for four years, and in 2008, property values weren't having their best year on record, due to the worldwide global financial crisis. Rybolovlev tore down the house because the dadgum thing was just sitting there on the market -- he never moved in, so of course it was on the market, because this was a normal real estate transaction just like you see on "House Hunters" -- and parceled out the property for land.

During the 2016 campaign, Dmitry Rybolovlev's private plane had the funniest habit. It -- an airplane owned by a Russian oligarch who's super close with the Kremlin -- would strangely show up at airports along the campaign trail with Donald Trump. It's never been confirmed that Rybolovlev was having clandestine meetings with Trump, his family, or his associates on those stops, so we can't say for sure old Dmitry was just flying around America acting like a common Loretta Lynch on the tarmac, but it's weird.

It's even weirder when one remembers that one of Rybolovlev's planes was nearby just after the Republican Convention, when a bunch of Trump people went to the Hamptons and then vanished into thin air, like on "Dateline NBC" with Craig Melvin and Natalie Morales. His plane headed to Nice, then on to Dubrovnik, Croatia, where Ivanka 'n' Jared just mysteriously reappeared on "vacation" with David Geffen and Rupert Murdoch's ex-wife Wendi Deng, who is maybea Chinese spy and who US Weekly thought might bePutin's girlfriend! According to testimony given by Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, there have been "rumors" of clandestine meetings between Trump people and Russians on yachts off Dubrovnik at that time, and Simpson says it should be investigated further. After that, the plane went to Budapest, a town half of Trump's staffers seem to have visited during the campaign.

But there's another important Rybolovlev connection we wrote about in that big crazy post, and because it's a lot, we're just going to copy/paste ourselves:

On August 3, 2016, there was a second bizarre Trump Tower treason meeting hosted by Donald Trump Jr., and attended by a whole buttload of Middle Easterners promising to help Trump win the election. Erik Prince, Betsy DeVos's sadist brother, was there. Stephen Miller, for some fucking reason, was there. George Nader, the Lebanese-American lobbyist who advised both Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and Crown Prince Mohammed Bone Saw of Saudi Arabia, and is now a cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation, was there.

And Joel Zamel, an [Australian] "social media specialist" who had an [Israeli] company called Psy-Group, was there. Zamel's companies have been tied both to Oleg Deripaska, AKA Putin's favorite oligarch, AKA Paul Manafort's old boss, and to Dmitry Rybolovlev. [...]

After the election, Nader paid Zamel two million bucks for some reason. Lapdances? Dogsitting? Or was it something else! During the campaign, Zamel had pitched guilty-ass Paul Manafort stooge Rick Gates on a plan to ratfuck both the Republican primary and the general election for Trump, but as far as we know, that didn't end up happening. AS FAR AS WE KNOW. Gates, of course, is a cooperating witness now, as is Paul Manafort, though apparently Manafort's not very good at cooperating. (If you'll recall, Zamel is one of the people Mueller's boys stopped at the airport and stole his Obamaphones, just like they did with Nader and several unnamed Russian oligarchs. Wonder which ones!)

AS FAR AS WE KNOW, nothing much came of Joel Zamel's offer to Donald Trump Jr. on August 3, 2016, to ratfuck the election for Trump with social media, and AS FAR AS WE KNOW, Junior didn't take his pants off during that meeting and say, "If it's what you say, I love it!"

And Now We Are Back Where We Started, With MBS Paying A Russian Oligarch LOTTA BUCKS For A Da Vinci That Maybe Isn't Even A Da Vinci

Did we mention that the painting, which depicts Jesus taking a load off with his disciples as they share bottomless breadsticks and salad at the Olive Garden, is missing? It's missing. MBS was supposed to put it in the Abu Dhabi outpost of the Louvre, but that didn't happen. Maybe MBS put it in the garage or something.

Regardless, everything about the transaction continues to be weird. As Zev Shalev explains, the painting has a weird history, having been passed through what he describes as "lesser" royal families until Sotheby's sold it for 45 whole pounds in 1958, at which point it disappeared. It was found again in 2005, badly damaged. When it was restored and debuted at the National Gallery in London in 2011, people were immediately skeptical it was a real da Vinci, because LOL Leonardo da Vinci and his students were not even that good at painting orbs.

But yeah, sure, ka-ching, most expensive painting in the world, let's have a Saudi prince with weird ties to the Trump-Russia scandal buy it from a Russian oligarch with weird ties to the Trump-Russia scandal for a batshit amount of money that's $300 million over appraisal. Doesn't sound like money laundering or a cover-up to us!

Rybolovlev himself seems to have overpaid for the painting, which depicts Jesus doing bunny ears to Saint John The Baptist after a total fuckshow of a day doing baptisms in the Dead Sea. ("We almost lost Greg!" said Jesus to John.) You see, he paid an art dealer named Yves Bouvier $127 million, when it should have only been $80 million. (Maybe he is just extraordinarily shitty at money?) But it turns out Yves Bouvier might have been engaged in some double dealing of his own:

Rybolovlev officially paid Bouvier a 2% commission per painting, but he later found out the Swiss art dealer was also acting for the seller, marking up prices and pocketing the margin along with both buyer's and seller's commissions.

That is how Rybolovlev came to own The Salvator Mundi for $127 million, instead of its valued $80 million. The two men have been squabbling in court ever since. Both have been arrested. And Rybolovlev is suing Sotheby's for knowing and not telling, he was being ripped off. The case itself could be a scam: money launderers often sue each other to wash their money with a judge's order.

Shalev notes that pretty much everything Rybolovlev is into also is a thing money launderers are into. Real estate, expensive art, owning soccer teams ... that kind of stuff.

There's also this other little thing Rybolovlev used to own:

In 2014, [current Commerce secretary Wilbur] Ross led a €1bn takeover of the Bank of Cyprus, a favoured destination for Moscow oligarchs seeking to store their wealth. Until 2013, the bank's biggest shareholder was the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.

OK, cool, filing that one away in our brain for when we need it later! The Guardian notes that one of Wilbur Ross's close associates in taking over the Bank of Cyprus was the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, a guy who is literally everywhere in the Trump-Russia scandal, including in Michael Cohen's porn star payoff slush fund, depositing large sums of money for ???? reasons. Oh yeah, he's buds with Ivanka too and he went to the inauguration and he went to the RT gala in 2015 where Michael Flynn and Putin sat at a table with Jill Stein, and he's a co-owner of the aluminum company that's been majority-controlled by fellow oligarch and former boss of Paul Manafort Oleg Deripaska, and so much more! ANYWAY.

When we wrote about Rybolovlev recently, he had just been picked up in Monaco related to his squabblings with the art dealer Yves Bouvier. We wondered if that might have anything to do with our current conversation about a massive multi-national conspiracy to steal the American election for Donald Trump, and we guess we now know that the answer is solid maybe.

Just ... WHAT?

Yeah. We told you this saga was officially weird now.

So If This Is Money Laundering, What's The Money FOR?

Shalev's feeling here, and we tend to agree, is that it's possible that the Psy-Group from the second Trump Tower meeting, controlled by the Australian Joel Zamel, who is very close with, and whose companies have been tied to, Dmitry Rybolovlev, did a lot more for Donald Trump to fuck the election than we know. From the original New York Timespiece on the meeting that took place August 3, 2016:

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting [...] The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company's ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.

A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR PROPOSAL. The claim from Junior's camp has always been that he wasn't interested in what these boys were selling and told them to GIT ON UP OUTTA HERE! But do we really believe that is how Junior would react to big powerful men offering him help to get Daddy elected? Does that really go with everything we know about Junior's relationship with his Daddy?

As Shalev writes, on top of its fake news/social manipulation operation, Psy-Group also did "honey-trapping, hacking and blackmail, for a fee." He notes that the Trump campaign's data firm, Cambridge Analytica, was mostly focused on targeting and profiling voters and tailoring messaging based on their Facebook data, not fake news-ing. He furthermore notes that Psy-Group and Cambridge Analytica teamed up officially after the election. Were they just riding high after some some really successful undercover work getting Trump elected?

If so, it might make more sense that yet another time, Rybolovlev's yacht was spotted canoodling in the British Virgin Islands in 2017 with the yacht of Robert Mercer, the Trump-backing financier who funded none other than Cambridge Analytica. Two ships passing in the night, indeed.

Oh, and we are just wondering if any of these guys ever met Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the Russian who ran the troll farm in Moscow that directly fucked with the election, who along with his company has been indicted by Robert Mueller.

ANYWAY! It's funny, as Shalev notes, that Psy-Group up and quit being a company when Robert Mueller came a-knockin' in the spring of 2018. Cambridge Analytica closed its doors literally the same month.

Scurry, rats, scurry!

We know that George Nader, who is Robert Mueller's cooperating witness,paid Joel Zamel two million buckeroos just after the election for some reason or another. But that's not the "multi-million dollar proposal" these guys gave to Junior, where Saudi and Emirati princes were offering to bankroll the ratfucking for Trump, in exchange for GOD KNOWS WHAT.

But a $300 million profit on a da Vinci that might not even be a da Vinci, which depicts Jesus driving a red 1986 Camaro, paid to a Russian oligarch by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, might be the fruits of just such a proposal. Shalev talks about how the art auction process worked, how everybody was FOR SHOCKED when this painting that shoulda been way cheaper ended up in an anonymous bidding war between two people that went all the way up to $450 million. The winner was MBS.

The "loser"? Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, AKA "MBZ," AKA the other prince who offered Donald Trump Jr. a glorious plan to ratfuck the election for Daddy, in the meeting arranged by Erik Prince, please do not lose sight of the fact that the meeting was ARRANGED BY ERIK PRINCE.

Just two Muslim princes fighting over a picture of Jesus. YEP. (A commenter notes that depiction of prophets is actually haram in Islam, which means "forbidden." Maybe that's why the painting is in the garage or wherever.)

And what of Rybolovlev's role as the seller? We'll hand it over to Zev Shalev and then wrap this fucker up:

On the seller's side, Dmitry Rybolovlev was not only well-acquainted with Psy-Group's founder but as an owner of the Bank of Cyprus, he could quietly carve out payments to Psy-Group, along with any kickbacks to Putin, without anyone noticing.

It's worth noting that four months after the Da Vinci auction Mueller sent investigators to Israel to ask about specific deposits to Psy-Group's Cypriot bank accounts. The FBI travelled to Israel in February, a month before the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince was outed as Salvator Mundi's second bidder.


We don't know if this is just all intrigue, a series of hilarious coincidences, or if this is really why Robert Mueller's Russia investigation widened to include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel a while back. But we do fucking know for a fact that Robert Mueller's investigation widened in just such a way, and it's always been confusing as to why.

The next few months are going to be lit as fuck. Robert Mueller has just been granted an extension on his current grand jury, the only one he can be granted, for six more months. If he needs more grand jury after that, he has to impanel a whole new one. We have a feeling he might be fixin' to tell us a story.

But hand to God, if it turns out this da Vinci thing really is the money laundering that blows this shit wide open, THAT BETTER BE THE WEIRDEST PART. If this whole thing turns out to be a cover-up for a search for the holy grail that really turns out to be the dead body of Mary Magdalene, who was Jesus's secret wife, then FUCK ALL THIS, WE ARE GOING HOME.


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Evan Hurst

Evan Hurst is the managing editor of Wonkette, which means he is the boss of you, unless you are Rebecca, who is boss of him. His dog Lula is judging you right now.

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