Rybolovlev, the potash magnate and owner of AS Monaco football club, is involved in an intense legal battle after claiming he was systematically overcharged on a series of multi-million pound artworks by Swiss dealer and ‘freeport’ businessman Yves Bouvier. Bouvier has strenuously denied the allegations.
Around a third of the paintings, including Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi that later sold for $450m at Christie’s New York in November last year, were acquired by Bouvier via private sales brokered by Sotheby’s. Rybolovlev has previously threatened to sue Sotheby’s and the company’s vice chairman of private sales Samuel Valette after alleging that they were complicit in Bouvier overcharging him for the works.
After lodging claims in France, Monaco and Singapore, Rybolovlev’s lawyers recently secured a ruling in New York for the release of confidential documents that could now be used in British courts.
A spokesman for Rybolovlev said: "We are not arguing about the price of the paintings bought with the assistance of Bouvier. We are arguing about the method of deception he used to add margins that were fraudulent and completely hidden from his client. The process will show how he did this and who he worked with to do it."
Tetiana Bersheda, a lawyer for the Rybolovlev family trust, said: “It took our clients almost two years to obtain documents from Sotheby's before the New York courts which raises serious questions around Sotheby's role in the massive fraud committed by Mr. Bouvier. The proceedings against Mr. Bouvier continue in several jurisdictions. Our clients are confident that these proceedings will bring to light the extent of Sotheby's involvement in the dealings between our clients and Mr Bouvier."
Sotheby’s released a statement saying the claims against it and its employee were “baseless”.
“We believe that Mr. Rybolovlev’s stated intention to bring claims against Sotheby’s in London is simply a tactic, using Sotheby’s location in England as an excuse to continue his worldwide dispute with Mr. Bouvier in the English courts, even though the Singapore Court of Appeal made clear that Switzerland was the most appropriate forum for the Bouvier/Rybolovlev dispute.”
It continues: “If Mr Rybolovlev persists with his attempts to bring a claim against Sotheby’s and its employee in the English court, Sotheby’s will vigorously challenge this, in light of the application which is currently before the Geneva court.”
The dispute between Rybolovlev and Bouvier dates back to 2015 and relates to almost 40 high value artworks including Gustav Klimt’s Water Serpents II as well as further paintings by the likes of Picasso, Rothko, Modigliani and Monet.
According to The Telegraph, Bouvier’s lawyers have insisted that their client never committed any fraud of any kind in his dealings with Rybolovlev.