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US government sells Wu-Tang’s single copy album

By | Published on Wednesday 28 July 2021

Wu-Tang Clan

The US government has sold the single copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’ in order to pay off monies owed under a forfeiture money judgment that was entered against its previous owner, Martin Shkreli, following his conviction for fraud in 2017.

“Through the diligent and persistent efforts of this office and its law enforcement partners, Shkreli has been held accountable and paid the price for lying and stealing from investors to enrich himself”, said Jacquelyn M Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, yesterday. “With today’s sale of this one-of-a-kind album, his payment of the forfeiture is now complete”.

Controversial hedge fund manager Shkreli, of course, purchased the only copy of the Wu-Tang album for $2 million in 2015. Anyone who expected it to quietly sit on a shelf after that was mistaken.

In subsequent years it became the centre of a weird feud between Shkreli and Wu-Tang rapper Raekwon, and also a copyright lawsuit. Parts of the record were aired by Shkreli to celebrate Donald Trump becoming US president, while an event to play the whole thing publicly was cancelled over security concerns. Then Shkreli (unsuccessfully) put it up for sale on eBay.

While he was doing all of this, he was also defrauding investors in his hedge fund. He was found guilty on three fraud charges in 2017 and sentenced to seven years in prison. And in addition to that jail time, he was also served the forfeiture money judgment, which ordered him to hand over $7.4 million.

Having pulled $5 million from Shkreli’s bank accounts, the US government seized other assets in lieu of the rest of the money, including a Picasso painting, a copy of Lil Wayne’s then unreleased ‘Tha Carter V’ album, and the Wu-Tang record.

Commenting on that turn of events in 2018, Wu-Tang’s RZA said of the potential sale of the record to a new owner: “I would hope that the clauses that were given to Mr Shkreli [as part of the original sale are] upheld, because it was a legal, binding thing. I would just hope that whatever happens, that legally, all the things that we thought to protect what it was and what it is remains intact”.

It seems that the government has honoured that contract, saying in a statement yesterday that “the album is subject to various restrictions, including those relating to the duplication of its sound recordings”.

The identity of the new owner and how much they paid for the album isn’t known, although we do know that the sale completes the obligations of Shkreli’s court order.

If your guess is that RZA bought it back, well, probably not. Which isn’t to say that he wouldn’t want it, just that that contract attached to the original sale doesn’t allow a buy-back. Also in 2018, he explained that he’d tried to buy it back when Shkreli launched his failed eBay auction in 2017.

“When [Shkreli] put it on eBay, the first thing I did was call my lawyer, and I was like, ‘Yo, let’s go'”, he said. “And they said, ‘Alright, check with your contract’. And it’s no, you can’t do it. Ain’t that a bitch?”

It remains to be seen if the new owner now quietly puts the album away and never mentions it again, or if there are more adventures as yet to be had for this particular compact disc.