Like many of the world’s rich, Dmitry Rybolovlev is a patron of the arts. He is a renowned collector of the kind of paintings art historians write about. And he claims to have lost upwards of $1 billion in art purchased through Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier. The legal battle between Rybolovlev and Bouvier to some of the art world is legend.
Works of art, which cost more than Rybolovlev’s New York, Hawaii and Monaco homes combined, are now the source of more pain than pleasure. His legal battle with Bouvier has roped in a quiet and respected middleman, the publicly traded, luxury auctioneer Sotheby’s of New York. He’s suing Sotheby’s for $380 million. According to the claimant, Bouvier “defrauded” Rybolovlev of more than $1 billion. Often selling him artwork at enormous 70%, markups on paintings he had just purchased. The dispute over some 38 paintings, of which less than half involved Sotheby’s, has spawned civil and criminal litigation in at least five jurisdictions around the world — Singapore, Switzerland, France, Monaco, and the United States. They claimed to the court that Sotheby’s “materially assisted the largest art fraud in history”.
A New York Southern Circuit Court judge ruled in June against Sotheby’s motion to dismiss evidence and remove the case from New York. The auction house’s attorneys wanted to seal the correspondence between a Sotheby’s Vice Chairman for worldwide private sales named Samuel Valette and Bouvier, citing damage to the company’s reputation. For almost a year Sotheby’s objected to the use of these documents in the Swiss criminal proceedings against Bouvier, with the Russian side arguing that it was because of the tight knit working relationship between the two that reveals Bouvier’s “fraud”. The email correspondence can now be used in Rybolovlev’s legal proceedings with Bouvier in Switzerland and bring this story to an end.
The New York court documents showed extracts from the correspondence between Valette and Bouvier, noting that the messages were “designed to induce Rybolovlev to pay inflated, fraudulent prices” and then used Sotheby’s as a “veneer of legitimacy and expertise” by providing “inflated appraisals on demand.”