A love for masterful art pieces has become natural for billionaires. After all, they are the only ones who can afford and are willing to pay millions for a Picasso or a da Vinci to grace the walls of their homes or better yet, be part of their collection housed in private museums. But collecting art doesn’t only come with a price tag; it also has its share of controversies as proven by the scandal that has rocked the art world for many years: The Bouvier Affair.
It all started in 2015 when international lawsuits were filed against noted Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier for allegedly defrauding his clients by overpricing art works that he sold to them. These high net worth individuals were from different countries but the most notable of them all was Russian billionaire and oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Four years later, this legal battle still continues and has taken a new turn with accusations that puts Rybolovlev into the center of a probe on Monaco about corruption and influence peddling.
The beginning of a scandal
Rybolovlev is known to be an avid art collector who owns some of the most precious art works in the world. In fact, he is part of the top 200 collectors list for ARTnews since 2012 and made headlines when he famously sold a Leonardo da Vinci piece named “Salvator Mundi” at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2017 at a whopping $450.3 million, setting the record for the most money ever paid for an artwork at an auction.
Rybolovlev was one of the most notable clients of Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier who helped him collect some of the best art pieces since 2003. This includes works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Amedeo Modigliani. But their 10-year business relationship went sour in 2015 when Bouvier was indicted in Monaco due to charges of fraud and complicity in money laundering by Rybolovlev who said that he was defrauded by Bouvier for more than $1 billion over 10 years of acquiring 38 art pieces where he paid the dealer $2 billion. Rybolovlev went on to sue Bouvier on the same year in Singapore to freeze his assets. Cases were also filed by Rybolovlev in Switzerland and are still going on until today.
The tables have turned
In the middle of a heated legal battle that exposed the exploitation of art for financial gains, the tables have turned for Rybolovlev when he was accused of using his influence in Monaco for Bouvier’s arrest. Allegations surfaced about Rybolovlev seeking help from justice minister Philippe Narmino and state prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dreno in the arrest of the Swiss dealer. Bouvier and his alleged accomplice Rappo used this allegation to argue their charges saying that Rybolovlev used his influence causing irregularities in the legal procedure, but the judge rejected the appeal. This allegation has opened an investigation, however, that led to the detention of Rybolovlev for questioning by the Monaco police. His sprawling estate knows at La Belle Epoque was also raided regarding the case.
The corruption probe
After being questioned for 24 hours, Rybolovlev was declared by a judge in Monaco as a suspect for influence peddling and corruption. This yearlong investigation has finally led to charges that the Russian billionaire who is also the owner of Monaco’s football team AS Monaco has used his influence in his case against Yves Bouvier. The inquiry focused on whether Rybolovlev used his influence in the arrest of Bouvier by giving police officials VIP season tickets to AS Monaco games. This was according to a report by the New York Times in September 2018.
This wasn’t the first time, however, that Rybolovlev got involved in these accusations since friendly text messages between his lawyer Tetiana Bersheda and Philippe Narmino who is Monaco’s justice minister were published in 2017, which prompted the latter to file for early retirement. The messages revealed that Narmino visited Rybolovlev’s ski chalet fie days after Bouvier was arrested in Monaco.
The saga continues
After being declared as a suspect on November 7 in yet another twist to the epic legal battle between Rybolovlev and Bouvier, the oligarch was released but subjected to controls, according to prosecutor Slyvie Petit-Leclair. A spokesman for Rybolovlev also confirmed this by saying: “Dmitry Rybolovlev is actually in Moscow. He was neither released on bail nor any travel restriction order has been issued in his respect. Mr Rybolovlev is subject to judicial control: he is not restricted from leaving Monaco and not limited in his movements.”