July 25, 2012 12:00 pm
So you want to make a big stick-em-up-heist movie, but you’re tired of all the red tape involved in shooting in Fort Knox or some bank on Wall Street. Casino robberies are old hat, and if you have to plan another way to sneak into the Pentagon you might just quit. Never fear, my friends, the New York Times has your answer: Geneva Freeport.
Geneva Freeport is a basement warehouse complex in Switzerland full of art. But it’s not just regular old art, it’s important, famous art, by painters like Picasso. There are also rooms full of gold bars, wine, cigars, Porches and, for many years, some stolen Egyptian artifacts.
No on really even knows how much stuff is in Geneva Freeport, and if they do they’re not spilling the beans. The New York Times tried to find out:
How much art is stockpiled in the 435,000 square feet of the Geneva Freeport? That’s a tough one. The canton of Geneva, which owns an 86 percent share of the Freeport, does not know, nor does Geneva Free Ports and Warehouses, the company that pays the canton for the right to serve as the Freeport’s landlord. Swiss customs officials presumably know, but they aren’t talking. Suffice it to say, there is wide belief among art dealers, advisers and insurers that there is enough art tucked away here to create one of the world’s great museums.
“I doubt you’ve got a piece of paper wide enough to write down all the zeros,” says Nicholas Brett, underwriting director of AXA Art Insurance in London, when asked to guess at the total value of Freeport art. “It’s a huge but unknown number.”
So, why Geneva? Why is there so much stuff of such high value in this grey, drab buildings? Taxes my friend, taxes. Things stored in the Freeport aren’t taxed as imports. As long as items stay in the warehouse, their owners don’t have to pay import taxes on any of them. And if the art, or gold bars, or whatever else is tucked away in those rooms is sold on the premises of the Freeport, there’s no transaction tax either. When you’re dealing with original Picassos and large chunks of gold, that’s a big deal.
So this is the perfect place for a stick-em-up movie, right? Tons of guards to blast through, high tech security to hack around, the whole shebang. Well, not exactly. Apparently security, the New York Times says, isn’t exactly what you might expect.
Driving up, you expect a checkpoint, armed guards, retina scans, German shepherds and X-ray machines. But none are in sight. There is some fencing and barbed wire, but less than you’d think. This isn’t to say that security here is lax — dealers, movers and collectors describe the place as impregnable, and locks and cameras abound. But nothing about the site says Fort Knox.
For all the amazing treasures inside, the Freeport isn’t flashy, or exciting, or mysterious. Simon Studer told the New York Times:
“It’s nothing fancy, nothing sexy,” he says. “It’s just pure business. It’s a very gray, very boring, dark, Swiss place. But when you go inside, you have some surprises.”
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