Divorcing without a prenup is never easy for high-net-worth individuals, but in the case of billionaires, the end of marital bliss can turn into a battle of cosmic dimensions.
Libbie Mugrabi was married to art mogul David Mugrabi for well over a decade. They have two children together, and until now they have also shared an art-dealing empire. The Mugrabis’s net worth is estimated at $5 billion.
Amid accusations of infidelity and claims that she cannot possibly maintain her lifestyle on the $25,000-a-month granted by the court, Libbie Mugrabi recently told a New York court that her estranged husband was using his connections among the affluent elites to slander her.
David was seeking a gag order to prevent Libbie from discussing details of the divorce in public. The art dealer is likely worried about losing his standing among his low-profile affluent connections, as well as about having the family’s finances exposed in the front pages. The Mugrabi empire consists of an elaborate structure of offshore companies in the four corners of the world.
In response to the gag order request, Libbie Mugrabi’s counsel cried out, “Our concern is the Mugrabi machine of publicists…We are not going to preclude ourselves from defending ourselves when Mr. Mugrabi has his friends denigrate [the children’s] mother in the press.”
According to David, however, Libbie is in talks with publishers about a book that would reveal the most unpleasant details of her divorce. The court was informed that there might be evidence of these dealings in the former Mrs. Mugrabi’s emails.
In tune what has been described as the “nastiest” billionaire divorce in history, Justice Douglas Hoffman declined to rule immediately about the requested gag order.
Libbie and David sat for an ‘amicable’ exchange after the court proceedings, but the friendly atmosphere didn’t last very long. According to witnesses, David eventually said to her, “It’s not your house,” referring to their $72 million townhouse.
The Mugrabi Empire
The son of a grocer, Jose Mugrabi moved to Colombia from his natal Jerusalem at a young age. He didn’t go to college but managed to amass a considerable fortune in the textile business in Latin America, from whence he sprang to New York. His Colombian competitors accused him of smuggling fabrics and dodging taxes, but he was never formally charged for any crimes.
It was in Manhattan, in the 1980s, that he first became interested in becoming an art collector. Meanwhile, his wife Mary had given birth to two sons, David and Alberto.
In 1982, Jose Mugrabi bought his first painting, a Renoir, for about $120,000. In 1988, he shelled out $4 million for an Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe, a purchase he later described as, “buying a piece of America.”
Some of Jose Mugrabi’s most remembered purchases include works by Basquiat and Jeff Koons. In 2013, he acquired one of Koons’s celebrated balloon dogs for $58.4 million. It was the largest amount ever paid for a work by a living artist.
For art connoisseurs, it is important to know what Jose is buying at any given time. The Times of London has compared his influence in setting the price of artworks to the Dow Jones index.
Some fellow art collectors have objected to his methods over the years. Because he knew that the prices fetched by Warhol set the tone of the global art market, he dedicated himself to trying to keep those prices high, sometimes overpaying for them. Since they have so much control, it is believed that if the Mugrabis went bankrupt, the art market could sink with them.
David went to college in Boston and became a broker in Wall Street. When he proposed to Libbie, he was living in a tiny apartment in Trump Tower. "He wasn't the type of man that wanted to spoil me until after we got married," Libbie has commented.
Their 2005 wedding was as extravagant as can be, with a performance by popular Middle Eastern star Ishtar, a decoration of orchids, a designer dress that required trips to Spain for fittings, and hundreds of guests, most of whom were unknown to the bride.
David’s Wall Street career wasn’t very long. By the time he married Libbie, he was already in the family business. For 13 years, David and Libbie hosted parties for art collectors, millionaires, and celebrities. Libbie took her cues from her mother-in-law and always made sure the entertaining was conducive to good business.
During their marriage, the Mugrabis vacationed in Italy, St. Barts, and Aspen several times a year. They spent time on luxury yachts, traveled in Jose Mugrabi’s private jet, and made the tour of the world’s most prominent art fairs.
David’s clients include Middle Eastern princes and Western billionaires alike. He and his father deal with collectors who prefer to keep their purchases confidential. “This corner of the art market is the most opaque thing in the world," one art reviewer has commented.
Libbie Mugrabi grew up in New Jersey. The daughter of a plastic surgeon, she often refers to growing up rather posh, but marrying Mugrabi took her to a whole different level. Libbie was in culinary school when her mother fixed her up with David. Three years later, they were married.
A media portrayal from a couple of years ago referenced her dining room, which was “lined with Andy Warhol Flower paintings,” and the Hamptons spa she created with her sister.
Libbie favors Basquiat, even before Warhol. “Basquiat is definitely my favorite artist… It’s very colorful. It’s strong. It has a very cool aspect to it,” she told reporters. “We collect art, and my husband’s a dealer so we live with a lot of art at home.”
Because the Mugrabis do not have a gallery and buy and sell artworks at luxurious private dinners and events, Libbie claims that the art dealing was a partnership and family business so she deserves her fair share of the fortune amassed by David during their marriage.
“Being married to an art dealer is a very social business...love being part of the art world,” Libbie has commented. High-profile artists like Hirst and Richard Prince have painted portraits of Libbie and members of her family.
Known familiarly as “Tico,” Alberto Mugrabi is also a prominent art dealer and an important player in the family business.
Alberto got married in the South of France in 2016. He spent a reported $20 million on the wedding celebration, which was attended by the likes of Heidi Klum, Sienna Miller, the Olsen twins, and Owen Wilson.
In a New York Times magazine article published in 2009, he referred to his passion for the family business. The piece quoted Alberto as saying, "We're market makers...You can't have an impact buying one or two pictures per artist. We're not buying art...just to put it on a wall. We want inventory."
Alberto Aroch Mugrabi
Jose Mugrabi’s nephew, Alberto Aroch, stayed in Colombia when his uncle moved to the US. He was also in the textile business, a trade he learned from Alberto.
In 2015, however, he was arrested and charged with laundering a staggering $300 million. According to prosecutors, Aroch used bogus exports to Venezuela and front companies around the world to launder millions of dollars over a period of 14 years. He was sentenced to house arrest until he was released on bail in May 2018.
The Colombian police found ties between Aroch Mugrabi and two U.S. Treasury-designated drug money launderers.
While Jose Mugrabi has not been mentioned in the case against his nephew, it is easy to wonder whether some of the methods utilized by Aroch to make money fast were ever part of his business tactics during his time in Colombia.
- Allegedly, Libbie once spent between $6,000 and $7,000 on a personal trainer during a trip.
- Her everyday look includes garments by Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, Azzedine Alaia, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana.
- She is often seen wearing diamond-studded jewelry
- She told reporters she needs $200,000 a month to maintain her lifestyle
- During her marriage, her annual expenses surpassed $3 million
- Her weekly bill for flowers amount to $400
- Her housekeeping staff cost $450,000 per year
Libbie is currently fighting over the sale of the couple’s townhouse, whose ownership David transferred to an LLC controlled by his brother. But with the ‘opaqueness’ of the Mugrabis’s dealings, it is likely that the art Marchands dynasty will choose a settlement sooner than having the clan’s complex finances exposed for all the world to see.