Geneva prosecutor drops criminal investigation in $2 billion art dispute


The Geneva Public Prosecutor’s Office has dropped a criminal investigation into Yves Bouvier, a Swiss businessman embroiled in a protracted battle with a Russian billionaire and art collector over the purchase of $2 billion worth of works of art.

It was the last outstanding criminal case brought by the collector, Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, in his dispute with Mr. Bouvier in what has been one of the art world’s longest and most bitter entanglements – which has been fought in legal jurisdictions around the world. world, including Singapore, Paris, Monaco and Geneva.

The prosecutor ruled that there was insufficient evidence to pursue the charges and terminated all pending criminal proceedings against Mr. Bouvier arising from the dispute with Mr. Rybolovlev. He called it “a complete victory,” Mr Bouvier said in a statement that the decision “marks the end of a six-year nightmare. For reasons unrelated to my art business, an oligarch tried to destroy me, but that did not work.”

However, Mr Rybolovlev’s lawyers said that this was not the end and that he planned to appeal.

In a statement, his lawyers suggested that Mr Bouvier’s case had not yet been properly assessed on its merits – whether Mr Bouvier was acting as an agent for Mr Rybolovlev or as an independent art dealer. “It is essential that this case, the most serious the art world has ever known, is properly considered and ultimately judged on its merits,” they said.

The messy battle started six years ago after Mr. Bouvier helped Mr. Rybolovlev buy 38 world-class works of art for $2 billion over a period of about 12 years.

These include high-profile works such as ‘Salvator Mundi’, a depiction of Christ attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

Mr. Rybolovlev has said in court documents that he believed that Mr. Bouvier was acting as his agent and adviser in the transactions, and he paid Mr. Bouvier a fee for his services. But he later found out, he said, that Mr. Bouvier bought many of the items ahead of time and then flipped them over to him for a $1 billion raise.

Mr. Bouvier insisted in court documents that he was not an agent or adviser and that instead, like any other art dealer, he had the right to charge Mr. Rybolovlev whatever price he wished for the art he bought. to his client and that Mr Rybolovlev was willing to pay.

Mr Bouvier was arrested in Monaco in early 2015 following a charge filed by Mr Rybolovlev. A judge in Monaco’s appeals court dismissed all charges of fraud and money laundering in 2019 after concluding that the investigation into Mr Bouvier had been conducted in a biased and unfair manner. That ruling was upheld by a higher court last year.

In the Geneva case, where he was also charged with fraud and money laundering, the prosecutor cited Monaco’s finding and said it meant he would also be denied the right to a fair trial in Geneva. The ruling said the courts in Monaco had determined that “the complainants had continually and inadmissibly interfered with the investigation, depriving Yves Bouvier of the right to a fair trial”. Much of the evidence to be used in Geneva comes from the same study.

The decision was signed on Wednesday by Yves Bertossa of the Geneva Public Prosecutor’s Office and received on Thursday by the representatives of Mr Bouvier. His representatives made the ruling public on Friday and it was confirmed by a representative of Mr Rybolovlev.

The decision also addressed the core issue of whether Mr Bouvier had acted as an agent or a dealer in his own right, finding that the allegations of fraud “were contradicted by many elements”.

Some of the early acquisitions involved sales contracts, suggesting that Mr. Bouvier was acting as the owner of the art and not just an agent, and there was nothing to indicate that the two men changed the formal nature of their legal relationship after this one. first sales had changed, the prosecutor said in the ruling.

In addition, the 2 percent commission paid by Mr Rybolovlev is significantly lower than the commission usually charged by other intermediaries, such as auction houses, the prosecutor’s office said, while Mr Bouvier also provided services beyond those of a typical agent, such as guaranteeing the authenticity of the work, is stated in the ruling.

On the other hand, emails between Mr Bouvier and Mr Rybolovlev suggested that he was presenting himself as an agent.

While there are still some gray areas as to the legal nature of the relationship between the parties, even assuming that Yves Bouvier was the complainants’ agent, the objective elements of the offense have not been met. the pronounciation. .

A separate investigation is ongoing in Monaco into corruption allegations by Mr Bouvier against Mr Rybolovlev.

That investigation revolves around questions about whether Mr Rybolovlev has used lavish perks to hire Monaco law enforcement officials as allies in his bitter feud with Mr Bouvier.

Mr. Rybolovlev has also objected to Sotheby’s role in some of the art sales in court filings in Manhattan federal court. Twelve of the 38 paintings were originally purchased by Mr Bouvier in a sale organized by Sotheby’s, but were subsequently forwarded to Mr Rybolovlev. Sotheby’s has said it has done nothing wrong and was in the dark about Mr Bouvier’s intentions.

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