Eye Atop the Pyramid

The History of Balenciaga at the center of international sex trafficking

The luxury fashion house Balenciaga, currently under attack for its recent ad campaign displaying images of children holding teddy bears in bondage gear, is the missing piece that shifts decades of leaks, puzzling news stories, and disjointed conspiracy theories into focus, and provides a picture of the criminal activity and depravity behind international finance and politics. The global elites are running an international sex trafficking cabal involving minors as a means of supplying incentives and blackmail for massive money laundering schemes. The Jeffrey Epstein affair made this clear, but it is Balenciaga that ties it all together, linking the Podestas, the Clintons, Epstein, the art world, the fashion world, and dozens of financial institutions into a network of collusion and extortion reaching to the highest levels of government and ultimately to the CIA. 

Balenciaga is owned by Kering, whose president and CEO is Francois Pinault, who is also the president and founder of Artemis Groupe, an investment and holding firm that owns Kering and, in turn, Balenciaga. Since 1998, Artemis Groupe has also owned Christie’s auction house in London, giving the company a central position of influence over the totally unregulated art world. This was a year after the auction house facilitated one of the biggest art sales in history. An anonymous businessman used a married couple as a front to sell an art collection through an island-based shell company, and another shell company set up by Christie’s to sell it. The collection went for $205 million, the anonymous seller and Christie’s each earning $38 million in profit. Artemis Group bought Christie’s soon afterward, and has since repeated this scheme multiple times, raking in tens of millions of dollars in commissions per sale, while shielding the identity of the seller and the buyer from the scrutinizing eye of international financial regulators. 

Christie’s was not legally obligated to reveal either party in any of these deals. In fact, the only reason we know any of this was because of documents found in the leaked cache of financial documents known as the Panama Papers, which revealed the names of the individuals and institutions involved in these transactions. In every single instance, the shell company was set up by a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca. The Panama Papers leaked in 2016, the same year as the Podesta and Clinton email leaks. In the run-up to the US Presidential election, the big story was Hilary Clinton’s involvement in the overthrow of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and particularly the debacle at Benghazi. Jeffrey Epstein was not yet in the headlines and the Podestas were buried under salacious rumors of child sex trafficking from the basement of Comet Ping Pong, and subsequently with the dissolution of their lobbying firm following Clinton’s stunning loss.

Because the corruption revealed was so widespread, and the coverage so sensationalized, it was easy to overlook an interesting detail from 2014 about Podesta Group: among the entities paying the company to lobby for their interests in Washington DC were Christie’s. Podesta Group was paid at least a million dollars by Christie’s and their competitor Sotheby’s to fight a proposed bill that would provide a royalty for artists from every secondary market sale of their work. The auction houses argued this would have cut into their profits, but it would have also forced them to reveal to the IRS information about the anonymous buyers and sellers whose identities it helped to shield.

One of those anonymous buyers was Jeffrey Epstein. In 2020, prosecutors in the Virgin Islands subpoenaed documents from Christie’s relating to purchases of art by an anonymous buyer that lawyers contended was indeed Epstein. Coming to over hundreds of millions of dollars, the transactions took shape as sales to “unidentified entities” and LLCs (shell companies) which received funding from sources including an investor who chaired the board of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But Epstein’s involvement in contemporary art went beyond money laundering. As detailed in the Netflix documentary, for decades, Epstein recruited girls from the art scene and set them up with the money for art school, residencies, trips to the Virgin Islands, and, of course, his clientele.

Epstein also recruited girls from the fashion industry. Through his relationship with Les Wexner, he set himself up as a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret, where he both sexually assaulted prospective models and recruited them into his trafficking ring. At the same time, Epstein cultivated a relationship with Jean-Luc Brunel, a modeling agent who would ultimately meet Epstein’s same fate, “hanging himself” from his bed sheets in a prison cell as he awaited trial. Epstein supposedly slept with over 1,000 women trafficked to him from Brunel, but he was probably not the only man these women slept with. 

Involved with money laundering through art at Christie’s, Epstein was also using the art world and the fashion world as an arena for sex trafficking. Was he the only one? Both Epstein and Tony Podesta, who also served as the benefactor for the artists whose work he purchased, paying for their schooling, giving them places to live, and inviting them to parties with his clients, rubbed shoulders regularly with the world’s richest and most powerful people – the same people for whom Christie’s was helping to launder billions of dollars per year. The same people who own Christie’s own Balenciaga, who just released an ad campaign which sexualized children next to printouts of the Supreme Court decision that discusses the sexualization of minors in media and works of art. What else could this mean?

The Supreme Court decision in question was the case of Ashcroft Vs. The Free Speech Coalition, in fact a coalition of pornographers who claimed that a previous Supreme Court ruling was “overbroad” in suppressing their free speech rights to show children engaging in sexual activity if the depiction was achieved with CGI, or if the actors were over 18, but playing the role of a child. Internet sleuths dug up artwork created by the artist behind the ads, as well as the art contained in a book placed in one of the ads, which does depict children in all sorts of violent and sexual ways. These disturbing images recall in particular the art collection of Tony Podesta, which not only portrayed sexualized and brutalized children, but was hung in his house and his offices where he entertained the elite at dinner parties and fundraisers. 

Of course, we cannot directly link Balenciaga or the Podestas themselves to sex trafficking or sexual abuse through this artwork. Though extremely disturbing, the most we can conclude is that they view the sexual exploitation and mutilation of children as legitimate art, and enjoy having it displayed. Even so, we can now link all these people, at least by a few degrees of separation, to sex trafficking through their connection to Jeffrey Epstein and Christie’s. While Balenciaga and Christie’s are owned by the same person, and some of the crimes discussed here relate to all players only by association or inference, they comprised merely one facet of a vast global superstructure of corruption and money laundering. None of the financial crimes of Christie’s or anyone involved in Christie’s, including Jeffrey Epstein, would have been possible without offshore shell companies set up to hide money, and in particular without Mossack Fonseca, the Panama law firm which set up these shell companies. 

Mossack Fonseca is not only connected to Epstein, the Podestas, and Christie’s, but also to the infamous FIFA corruption scandal and the laundering of Sinaloa cartel money, both of which also involved sex trafficking as well as money laundering. The two crimes seem to go hand in hand. The investigative journalist Whitney Webb, who recently published a 1,000-page, two-volume book on sexual blackmail, claims that sex trafficking is only one tool in an arsenal of methods used by criminals to “butter up” and compromise their clients. 

Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi and the Saudi Royal Family are another group involved in money laundering, weapons smuggling, and sex trafficking, and they were also clients of Mossak Fonseca. In fact, Adnan Khashoggi’s relationship with them goes back to their founding in 1978, years before Fonseca joined the company, and it was just one man, Jurgen Mossack, helping his clients hide their money and schemes. There is strong evidence that Mossak Fonseca was itself a CIA scheme set up expressly for these purposes in their “black operations.” The law firm worked with Khashoggi from 1978-2003 using Khashoggi’s Panama-based front company “Isis Overseas S.A.” During this period, Khashoggi and others helped elements of the CIA to sell Israeli weapons to Iran and used the proceeds from the sale to arm the Nicaraguan Contras in the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. 

The weapons had to be covertly flown through front companies from Europe to Iran, and then the money had to be covertly transferred back to South America to pay the Contras. Jurgen Mossack set up the front companies that paid for the planes and helped launder the money back to Panama, where it was used to pay the Chinese for knock-off Soviet-style weapons to arm the Contras, who were trained by the CIA in Panama. The CIA was also the buyer behind the front companies that paid for the planes to transport the weapons. Once the Contras were up and running, they began trafficking cocaine through Panama, into the United States. These flights, too, were set up through front companies created by Mossack, with the money behind the companies coming from the CIA (via the Contras). 

Although Epstein’s ties to Khashoggi and the Saudis during the ’80s are currently based only on a former partner who served decades in prison for a crime he committed with Epstein (and the circumstantial fact that Epstein had a fake Saudi passport which dated from the 1980s), Epstein is unquestionably associated with them through Mossack. Epstein associate Les Wexner was heavily invested in at least one of these companies, Southern Air Transport, which was owned by the CIA (through a Mossack shell), and flew into Miami until it started doing business with Wexner and began to fly into Ohio, where Wexner was living when Epstein “took control of his finances.” All of the traffic was going through Panama in the 1980s because its military dictator, Manuel Noreiga, was one of the CIA’s most important assets. Other operations in the country included human trafficking by the Chinese (Mossack Fonseca has an office in Hong Kong), and drug running by the Medellin cartel. In effect, the CIA turned an entire country into a slush fund for its criminal activity, and Mossack Fonseca was the firm that made it happen.

Jurgen Mossack himself was born in Bavaria Germany: his own connection to Panama goes back to his father Erhard Mossack, who spent World War II as a soldier in the notorious Totenkopf unit of the Waffen SS. After the war, he became part of a small group of veterans in the Munich underground trying to infiltrate communist groups when he was picked up by British intelligence. From there he was turned over to US military intelligence, who produced a small file on him. Little is said in the document beyond detailing Mossack’s experience contacting and infiltrating Communist groups, transcribing a list of names found in his pocket, and making clear that his new career as a spy was almost certainly a way for him to “get out of an awkward situation” created by his war record. And it appears this tactic worked. After 1945, Ernard Mossack disappears from the record beyond a few salient facts; that he moved from Munich to Panama with his wife and young son Jurgen in 1948, and moved back to Germany in the mid-70s, while Jurgen stayed in Panama to start his business. 

According to several news sources, Erhard Mossack offered to help intelligence run counter operations on communists in Latin America and moved to Panama with this in mind. Once in South America, he was reported to have become a CIA asset to help undermine the Castro regime in Cuba. The Panama Papers were leaked to the Bavarian newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, based in Munich, Erhard’s hometown. After this connection was revealed, Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media outlets lobbied the German government for files on Erhard Mossack. Although the files were admitted to exist, the German government refused to release them, on the grounds that they would compromise German national security. All we can say for sure about Erhard Mossack is that he never faced trial for his role in the Second World War, that his son went on to create over 200,000 fake companies to help clients hide their money, and that among those clients was Jeffrey Epstein, Artemis Group, and the CIA. 

Astral is a writer and podcaster on art and culture in the digital world. He writes on astralflight.substack.com.


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