Prosecutor in Geneva drops criminal investigation into $2 billion arts dispute

The Geneva Public Prosecutor’s Office has dropped a criminal investigation into Yves Bouvier, a Swiss businessman embroiled in a long-running battle with a Russian billionaire and art collector over the acquisition of $2 billion of artworks.

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

The prosecutor ruled that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the charges, ending all current criminal proceedings against Mr Bouvier, which resulted in a dispute with Mr Rybolovlev. Calling it “an absolute victory”, Mr. Bouvier said in a statement that the decision “marked the end of six years of nightmares. For reasons that had nothing to do with my art-related activities, an oligarch called Tried to destroy me and failed.”

However, Mr. Rybolevlev’s lawyers said that this is not the end and that he intended to appeal.

In a statement, his lawyers suggested that the case against Mr Bouvier was not yet properly judged on its merits – whether Mr Bouvier was acting as an agent for Mr Rybolevlev or in his own right. As an independent art dealer. “It is essential that this matter, by far the most serious matter in the art world, be duly considered and finally decided on its merits,” he said.

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

These included high-profile works such as “Salvator Mundi”, in which Leonardo da Vinci was attributed a depiction of Christ.

Mr. Rybolevlev has stated in court papers that he believed Mr. Bouvier was acting as his agent and advisor on the transaction, and that he paid Mr. Bouvier a fee for his services. But he later learned, he said, that Mr Bouvier had already bought several items, then sent them to him at a markup of $1 billion.

Mr Bouvier insisted in court papers that he was not an agent or consultant and that instead, like any art dealer, he was entitled to charge Mr. Rybolovlev whatever price he wanted for the art sold to his client. and Mr. Rybolevlev was ready to pay.

Mr Bouvier was arrested in Monaco in early 2015 following a criminal complaint by Mr Rybolevlev. A judge at the Court of Appeals of Monaco All charges dropped of fraud and money laundering, in 2019, after concluding that Mr Bouvier was investigated in a biased and unfair manner. that was the decision upheld by a high court Last year.

In the Geneva case, where he also faced charges including fraud and money laundering, the prosecutor cited the Monaco finding that meant he would be denied the right to a fair trial in Geneva as well. The ruling said that the courts in Monaco found that “the complainants had consistently and unacceptably interfered in the course of the investigation, thus denying Yves Bouvier the right to a fair trial”. Much of the evidence used in Geneva was produced by the same investigation.

The decision was signed Wednesday by Yves Bertosa of the Geneva prosecutor’s office, and was received by Mr Bouvier’s representatives on Thursday, said Alistair Sloan, Mr Bouvier’s spokesman. His representatives released the ruling publicly on Friday, and it was confirmed by a representative for Mr. Rybolovlev.

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

Some of the early acquisitions included sales contracts, suggesting that Mr Bouvier was acting as the owner of the art, and not simply as an agent, and there was nothing to indicate that these first sales. After the two men had changed the formal nature of their legal relationship, the prosecutor’s office said in the verdict.

In addition, the 2 percent commission paid by Rybolovlev is generally much lower than commissions charged by other intermediaries such as auction houses, the prosecutor’s office said – while Mr Bouvier performed services beyond that of a typical agent. , such as to guarantee the authenticity of the work, it said in the ruling.

On the other hand, emails between Mr Bouvier and Mr Rybolovlev suggested he was posing as an agent, it said.

“While there are still some gray areas as to the legal nature of the relationship between the parties, even the assumption that Yves Bouvier was the complainant’s agent has not met the objective constituents of the crime, The ruling said. .

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

This test is done questions about Mr Rybolovlev used lavish perks to enlist Monaco’s law enforcement officers as allies in his bitter feud with Mr Bouvier.

Mr. Rybolovlev has also made issue of the role played by Sotheby’s in some art sales in court filings in federal court in Manhattan. Twelve of the 38 paintings were originally purchased by Mr Bouvier at a sale arranged by Sotheby’s, only for Mr Rybolovlev to be flipped. Sotheby’s where is It did nothing wrong, and it was in the dark about Mr. Bouvier’s intentions.

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