Art Dealer Under Investigation Again as New Evidence Emerges in Case of Stolen Picassos Linked to Yves Bouvier

How will the new evidence impact on the Bouvier/Rybolovlev case?

Dmitry Rybolovlev poses in Paris on September 24, 2015 in front of two paintings by Pablo Picasso, which he purchased from a Swiss art dealer. AFP PHOTO / PATRICK KOVARIK.

Art dealer Olivier Thomas has been placed under investigation once again as new evidence has emerged in the ongoing investigation into stolen Picasso paintings. Last year, Picasso’s stepdaughter Catherine Hutin-Blay accused the dealer, who’s associated with former Freeport head Yves Bouvier, of stealing three works from her. Hutin-Blay alleged that three paintings, including two works by her stepfather that she had entrusted to Bouvier for storage, had been stolen and surreptitiously sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev without her consent.

Thomas was detained by French authorities in May of 2015, and the Brigade de Repression du Banditisme, a special unit of the French Ministry of the Interior, took over the investigation. But Thomas evaded formal charges in his first appearance at court on 9 November, 2015. Back then, he insisted that the works in question “meant nothing to him” and that he had never seen them before. He then emerged from the judge’s office as assisted witness. However, the investigation was still ongoing at the time.

Now, investigators who seized and searched his digital devices, found photos of the disputed artworks on his laptop that he had apparently taken himself, Le Figaro reports.

Thomas was placed under investigation once again this past Wednesday, July 6, in Paris by judge Isabelle Rich-Flament for “abuse of trust, fraud, concealment, and laundering” to the detriment of Hutin-Blay.

The judge had summoned Thomas for renewed questioning, and reminded him of his insistence that he had “never seen these pictures” before. According to Le Figaro, the Justice maintained that Thomas had seen the works on multiple occasions, and that his feigned confusion is the crux of the problem.

Yves Bouvier stepped down from his position running Luxembourg's Le Freeport in 2015. Photo: Wikimedia commons

Yves Bouvier stepped down from his position running Luxembourg’s Le Freeport in 2015. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The two gouache paintings by Picasso were found at the residence of Russian billionaire and President of AS Monaco, Dmitry Rybolovlev, who returned the works to the Brigade de Repression du Banditisme. Rybolovlev had reportedly shelled out €27 million for the works, paid to the Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier. This is the exact amount Bouvier had to pay as a fine when he was placed under investigation for “harboring the theft” of these gouaches. Bouvier would have pocketed between €8 and €10 million for the sale together with Thomas, who would have received a commission of two percent.

renewed questioning supports the allegations made by Hutin-Blay, who claims he had stolen the two portraits depicting her mother, Jacqueline Roque: Woman Combing Her Hair, dated February 5, 1957, and Espagnole à l’éventail, dated December 7, 1957. The gouaches resurfaced thanks to art conservator Flavio Capitulano, who had allegedly been commissioned by the Freeport to clean the art works’ surface, which he told police was the “express request of Yves Bouvier.”

Ron Soffer, Bouvier’s Paris-based attorney, has emailed the following statement to artnet News: “Neither Yves Bouvier or anyone else has been indicted in this case. The investigation is ongoing. Yves Bouvier has made his position very clear to the investigating magistrate that an entity controlled by him purchased the works in question for a substantial amount of money. He conducted the necessary verification, including getting art loss registry certificates.”

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