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10.12.2013
Hotel Dolder Grand and Galerie Gmurzynska raided


It appears that the Hotel Dolder Grand may have been exhibiting paintings which have been imported into Switzerland without customs duty having been imposed on them.
 
In the spring of 2011, the five-star Hotel Dolder (photograph) in part resembled a veritable unofficial art gallery, with its owner, Urs E. Schwarzenbach having over 100 of his works of art, some by renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Damien Hirst and Joan Miro, transferred there.
 
However the exhibits caught not only the eye of hotel visitors but customs officers, too. Indeed, according to press reports this Sunday, a raid took place on the hotel on Tuesday 16 April this year, along with another on the Galerie Gmurzynska on Paradeplatz in the city. It was thought that some of the paintings at the hotel had been brought into Switzerland without import duties amounting to CHF 6 million being paid.
 
A spokesman for Schwarzenbach, who now lives on a £39-million Buckinghamshire estate, confirmed that customs lawsuit was currently ongoing with regard to imported works of art, though he stressed the hotel proprietor was sure everything had been properly declared.
 
According to the Sunday Times, Schwarzenbach, the son of a printer, has an estimated wealth of £850 million, after making a fortune on the foreign exchange markets. In addition to property in Zurich, he allegedly owns property in Scotland and St Moritz. He has been collecting art for some 40 years.
 
Journalists of the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger newspaper have confirmed that they have seen court documents showing that some of Schwarzenbach's works of art had been stored in a bonded warehouse, such as are available everywhere in Switzerland. These allow imported goods to be stored without customs charges levied until such times that the pictures are exported or formally brought into Switzerland, whereupon the owners then have to pay VAT. The system means that the Swiss Customs relies very much on the trust it places in the international forwarding agents.
 
As mentioned, only as long as the works of art, or indeed any other valuables, are kept in these bonded warehouses, are no dues levied. What seems to have happened in the case of those belonging to Schwarzenbach is that some suddenly appeared on display at the Hotel Dolder. It appears paintings to the value of CHF 75 million were imported into Switzerland via the bonded warehouse, not through the owner, but by a private gallery, thereby avoiding VAT.
 
Further investigation led to the gallery in question being identified as the Galerie Gmurzynska, which trades on Paradeplatz in the city, on Via Serlas in St Moritz and in Zug.  According to legal documents seen by journalists, the gallery appears to have made use of a sham company, which issued fake bills, to import the paintings. As of Sunday, neither the gallery nor any of their lawyers was available for comment. Nor was the Swiss Customs Administration prepared to comment, though it stressed innocence should be presumed in the case of all involved.
 
Switzerland is the third largest importer of works of art. Last year, items to the value of some CHF 1.3 billion were imported. At the same time 175 people were investigated as they tried to smuggle works in to avoid paying the 8% VAT levy.


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