Last year, Credit Suisse co-sponsored a special at Art Basel in Switzerland, as part of a “thought leadership” series hosted by Urs Rohner, chairman of the executive board of Credit Suisse Group, along with Dasha Zhukova and Daphne Guinness. The audience included high rollers like Eli Broad, Larry Gagosian, Peter and Harry Brant, and CAA head Bryan Lourd. The Swiss bank was clearly eager to capitalize on the hard-won credibility of Gates’s socially engaged art to burnish its image: “Chicago’s rising art star Theaster Gates is rapidly becoming one of the most influential people in the business,” it wrote on it’s website. “He uses art as a catalyst for social activism and is persuading the world’s wealthiest to lean in to his vision.”
It turns out that Credit Suisse may have had another, baser motive for building ties with the art fair franchise—and it was very far from getting the wealthy to “lean in.” In fact, just the reverse. The bank now faces $2.6 billion in penalties after pleading guilty to criminal wrong doing for facilitating tax evasion, the biggest such penalty ever, though one it’s a slap on the wrist. The news coming out about its guilty plea includes some juicy stuff about Credit Suisse’s efforts to use the art fairs, specifically the Miami edition of Art Basel, as a beachhead for its illicit dealings. James Henry, senior adviser to the Tax Justice Network, explained some of the lengths that Credit Suisse went to in courting wealthy Americans.