Oct 5 (ICIJ) – In early 2018, workers in a London warehouse carefully loaded an oil painting of Lakshmi, the Hindu deity of wealth, onto a van bound for Switzerland.
The painting, by 19th-century Indian master Raja Ravi Varma, depicts the four-armed goddess clad in a red sari with gold ornaments and standing atop a lotus flower. It was one of 31 works of art, altogether worth nearly $1 million, that were being shipped to the Geneva Freeport in Switzerland. That vast, ultra-secure warehouse complex, larger than 20 soccer fields, stores among its many treasures what the BBC once called “the greatest art collection no one can see.”
The owner of “Goddess Lakshmi,” and the artworks in transit with it, as recorded on the packing slip, was a Samoan-registered shell company with an unremarkable name, Pacific Commodities Ltd. But a cache of leaked documents from Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based financial services provider, indicates that a politically connected Sri Lankan, Thirukumar Nadesan, secretly controls the company and thus is the true owner of the 31 pieces of art.
His wife, Nirupama Rajapaksa, is a former member of Sri Lanka’s Parliament and a scion of the powerful Rajapaksa clan, which has dominated the Indian Ocean island nation’s politics for decades.