In 2015, Wu-Tang Clan released exactly one copy of their album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, and auctioned it – in a silver and nickel-plated box, along with a 174-page leather-bound book – to an anonymous buyer for $2 million. That anonymous buyer turned out to be Martin Shkreli, "Pharma Bro" and infamous millionaire douchebag.
Owning the album meant Shkreli could do pretty much whatever he wanted with it, apart from release it commercially for 88 years – a clause Wu-Tang's Method Man described as "crazy weird". However, essentially all Shkreli did was tease a few parts of the record by partially playing it on a livestream after Donald Trump won the presidential election, as well as allowing a VICE journalist to take photos of the presentation box.
Shkreli – who shot to notoriety after his pharmaceutical company raised the price of a drug used by AIDS patients by 5,000 percent – had also said he was considering destroying the one-off piece of art, but following news reported yesterday it looks like the fate of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is now out of his hands.
In August of 2017, Shkreli was convicted of two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiring to commit securities fraud. On Monday, Judge Kiyo Matsumoto ordered him to forfeit $7.36 million to the government as part of his conviction, and because he's "cash-broke" he'll need to make that sum up by handing over assets – including the Wu-Tang Clan album.
So, what exactly happens to the record now?
Had he somehow known he was going to have to forfeit the album, Shkreli could have had his lawyer auction it to try to raise some money independently. Mind you, he already tried selling it on eBay on 2017, listing it with some webcam selfies to verify its authenticity, and starting the bidding at $1. In the listing he wrote, "I am not selling to raise cash – my companies and I have record amounts of cash on hand." Considering what we now know, it would seem this wasn't completely accurate.
Either way, the auction reached a winning bid of $1,025,100, but the deal was never completed.
Matt "M-Eighty" Markoff – who has worked with Wu-Tang Clan in the past – wanted to buy the album to share with the public, and went as far as posting pictures online of a proposal drawn up between himself and Shkreli, but that sale never went through either.
According to court documents, once Shkreli forfeits the album it becomes the property of the US federal government. Usually, only items deemed stolen – like historical artefacts – are returned to their original owners, so it's unlikely the album will end up back in Wu-Tang hands. More likely is that, like most art seized in criminal proceedings in the US, it will be put up for public auction. If you fancy shelling out, here's a list of websites seized property is auctioned off on. No guarantee it'll appear on any of them, but hey, if not there are always Black Hawk helicopters and entire homes in California to bid on instead.
Or, as Noisey pointed out, you could try your luck with some cleverly-worded FOIA requests.
Further complicating the issue is a Bloomberg article that calls into question the legitimacy of the album, which could potentially dent its value and make its sale pointless. For his part, Shkreli's lawyer has claimed the record is now "probably worthless".
Stay tuned, I guess.