The United States government sold the sole copy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s 2015 album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which had been seized from Martin Shkreli after he was convicted of investment fraud. In September 2015, Shkreli’s company Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired the patent to Daraprim, a medication used to treat malaria and HIV/AIDs. The company then increased the price of the drug by 5,000 percent, from $13.50 per pill to $750. The move drew widespread ire, and soon after, Shkreli was under investigation. In 2018, he was convicted of investment fraud—for charges unrelated to the Daraprim price hike—and charged to forfeit $7.4 million in fines. When he claimed insufficient funds to fulfill the forfeiture order, the government seized some of Shkreli’s assets, including the Wu-Tang Clan album that he bought at a Paddle8 auction for $2 million in 2015.
The proceeds of the new sale will go toward paying off the outstanding balance owed on the forfeiture, according a statement from the Department of Justice. The buyer and the price have not been disclosed under a confidentiality provision in the contract of sale.
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Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was originally packaged in a handcrafted silver box by the British-Moroccan artist Yahya, with a leather-bound manuscript containing lyrics and a certificate of authenticity. The album was made in secret by members of the Wu-Tang Clan, who wanted to create an album as art object in the hopes of elevating the value of music in the streaming era. Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA explained the group’s reasoning in an interview with a representative of Ezclziv/Scluzay, the private investor group that funded the album. “If recorded music is worthless,” he said, “the independent artist can’t make a living.”
To secure the value of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, the Wu-Tang Clan stipulated that the album could not be commercially released until 2103, though it could be played at listening parties. After Donald Trump was elected as president, Shkreli played portions of the album online in celebration. Shortly before his conviction, Shkreli attempted to sell the album on eBay, hoping to find a buyer who would “make it available for the world to hear.” In response to the sale on Tuesday, Shkreli’s ex-girlfriend Christie Smythe, the subject of a recent viral profile in Elle, tweeted, “Well someone else has it now…so stop complaining about him having it.”