The Russian billionaire, the art dealer and a disputed Leonardo da Vinci painting

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A Russian billionaire oligarch has ended an eight-year legal battle with his former art dealer over allegations of fraud that involved a disputed work by Leonardo da Vinci.

Dmitry Rybolovlev, 56, and Yves Bouvier, a Swiss art dealer and businessman, have settled their long-running dispute after a bitter and acrimonious legal war.

Dmitry Rybolovlev (pictured) had accused Swiss art dealer and businessman Yves Bouvier of allegedly overcharging by nearly $US1 billion while purchasing 38 paintings on his behalf.Credit: Getty Images

Rybolovlev, who owns the football club AS Monaco, launched nine civil and criminal claims in Monaco, New York, Singapore and Switzerland against Bouvier in 2015 accusing him of allegedly overcharging by nearly $US1 billion ($1.5 billion) while purchasing 38 paintings on his behalf.

One of the artworks was Salvator Mundi, a painting by the Italian Renaissance master known as the Last Leonardo but whose authenticity has been questioned by some experts.

Rybolovlev, a billionaire who made his fortune through a Russian fertiliser business, believes he paid an inflated sum for the painting, which he purchased for $US127.5 million in 2013. He discovered later that Sotheby’s had charged Bouvier only $US80.6 million.

Four years later, Salvador Mundi was sold for a world record $US450 million.

Rybolovlev had commissioned the well-connected Bouvier to amass a treasure trove of artworks by legendary painters, notably Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet and Matisse.

Their relationship ended when the oligarch accused the Swiss art dealer of charging him inflated prices and taking an unfair commission. These claims were strongly denied.

Bouvier said in 2019: “Rybolovlev’s attacks against me had nothing to do with the sale of art. He was trying to artificially depreciate the value of his collection in the midst of his divorce proceeding, to punish me for having refused to corrupt the Swiss Judge in his divorce and to steal my freeport in Singapore”.

Rybolovlev filed an avalanche of legal claims against his former art dealer. But the legal tables were dramatically turned when the Russian billionaire was accused of corruption.

A Monaco Justice Minister was dismissed and two senior police officers were suspended after evidence emerged suggesting the oligarch tried to influence the criminal investigation into Bouvier.

Hundreds of leaked text messages published by Le Monde detailed how the Russian had funded a trip for the Justice Minister and his wife at his Swiss chalet in Gstaad.

Justice minister Philippe Narmino took early retirement in the wake of the Le Monde report in 2017, saying he could no longer carry out his duties because of “personal allegations against me and the repeated attacks against judicial institutions”.

Despite this setback, Rybolovlev filed criminal complaints against Bouvier, who also owned freeports throughout the world. Investigations and charges have gradually fallen away, leaving only proceedings in Switzerland.

On Thursday, the Swiss public prosecutor’s office closed down all investigations and stated the “hearings did not provide any evidence to raise sufficient suspicion against the defendant”, Bouvier.

One of the artworks was Salvator Mundi, a painting by the Italian Renaissance master known as the Last Leonardo but whose authenticity has been questioned by some experts.Credit: AP

Sandrine Giroud, a lawyer representing Rybolovlev, said: “The parties have reached a confidential settlement concerning all their disputes that involved proceedings in various jurisdictions.

“They have no claims against each other and will refrain from commenting on their past disputes”.

All nine of the court cases filed by the oligarch in five different countries have failed and so his former art dealer is claiming victory.

“Today marks the end of a nine-year nightmare,” Bouvier said on Thursday night. “Courts all around the world have now unanimously concluded I was innocent”.

His lawyer David Bitton commented: “All the allegations against Bouvier were set aside by prosecutors around the world and not a single court agreed to open a proper trial to review the accusations”.

While Bouvier and Rybolovlev are no longer in dispute, the Russian is still involved in a legal fight over what he claims was “the largest art fraud in history”.

Rybolovlev is suing Sotheby’s in New York and accused the auction house of providing inflated valuations to aid and abet Bouvier’s “mark-ups”. Sothebys strongly denies the claim as “baseless”. The case is scheduled for trial early next year.

Rybolovlev’s $US6.8 billion fortune is based on his past ownership of one of the world’s largest potash producers, Ukralkali. His purchase of Monaco’s football club in 2011 transformed it from a French second division side to Champions League semi-finalists.

He owns two thirds of the club, with the other third owned by Prince Albert who approved his takeover.

The oligarch is best known in the US for his purchase of Donald Trump’s mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, for $US95 million in 2008.

Most property experts assessed the value as $US65 million and there was speculation by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen that the deal was arranged to please Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, there is no evidence that Rybolovlev is close to Putin and he is not subject to EU or US sanctions.

Telegraph, London

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