In a Surprise Move, a Swiss Court Is Reopening an Investigation Into Swiss Billionaire Yves Bouvier at the Behest of His Nemesis, Dmitry Rybolovlev
The previous case was thrown out on bribery-related allegations in Monaco.
Nearly a year ago, Swiss businessman and freeport magnate Yves Bouvier declared “complete victory” in his years-long international legal battle with Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev after a Swiss court dropped the last of the remaining charges against him.
That victory, however, has proved short-lived.
Just as he vowed to do at the time, Rybolovlev has successfully appealed the Geneva court’s decision to drop the case and, in a surprise twist, a criminal appeals court has reinstated the investigation.
For the past seven years, Rybolovlev has doggedly pursued criminal and civil charges against Bouvier, who he alleges defrauded him to the tune of $1 billion on some 38 art transactions worth a reported $2 billion. He has attempted to pursue charges against Bouvier in courts in Monaco, Switzerland, and Singapore, and even through a related case against Sotheby’s in New York.
Bouvier contends in his defense that he was free to charge any markup he saw fit on the art deals, prompting further debate over whether he was technically acting as advisor, agent, or dealer, and what specific fiscal responsibilities to a client are attached to those labels.
According to court papers and a statement from Rybolovlev’s attorneys yesterday, the Geneva court agreed with the Russian collector’s arguments against Bouvier and remanded the case to the public prosecutor’s office to resume the investigation. Also named as defendants are Bouvier associates Tania Reppo and Jean-Marc Peretti.
“We welcome the decision of the Chambre d’Appel, which will see the Geneva Prosecutor’s Office carry out additional investigation,” according to a statement from Bouvier’s attorney, David Bitton. “We remain confident that the same decision will be reached and the case will be concluded in Mr Bouvier’s favour, as has happened in all the courts across the world where Rybolovlev has taken legal action against him.”
The statement noted that Yves Bertossa, “the same Prosecutor who previously confirmed that Rybolovlev’s claims were baseless will now re-examine the case.”
“This ruling demonstrates the untenability of Yves Bouvier’s defense and the inanity of his allegations,” said Rybolovlev attorneys Sandrine Giroud and Benoit Mauron in the statement. “Our clients are awaiting the continuation of the proceedings and are convinced that the criminal responsibility of Yves Bouvier and his associates will be promptly established.”
The previous case was dismissed after it was revealed that Rybolovlev had influenced the Monaco investigation, including with lavish gifts and trips for high-ranking police officers there. For instance, in September 2017, in what the French press dubbed “Monaco-gate,” Philippe Narmino, the city-state’s former minister of justice, resigned after Le Monde published text messages revealing that he worked on behalf of Rybolovlev to influence the art fraud case.
At the time, it was reported that Narmino had decided to take an “early retirement” just hours after Le Monde posted the texts, which suggested “a vast influence-peddling scandal at the heart of Monaco institutions.”
The case’s dismissal has therefore been reversed and returned to the public prosecutor’s office for investigation, according to the attorneys’ statement.
“Yves Bouvier has chosen to plead via media, proclaiming an alternate reality and making egregiously erroneous statements about the case,” the attorneys continued in the statement. “Our clients prefer to rely on the judicial system and salute the independence and the quality of the work of the Geneva judiciary. They have full confidence that the prompt demonstration of the criminal responsibility of Yves Bouvier and his accomplices will be made.”
Bouvier fired back in his own statement, saying that Rybolovlev has tried to “destroy my business, my reputation and my life.” Bouvier added that Rybolovlev’s attacks on him had nothing to do with the sale of art but instead with the fact that he was in the middle of “the most expensive divorce in history and wanted to depreciate the value of his art collection.” He further accused Rybolovlev of “wanting to steal my freeport business in Singapore and build his own for the Russian Federation in Vladivostok.”
Yves Bertossa, the lead Swiss prosecutor, told the Art Newspaper last year that “most of the exhibits introduced” to support Rybolovlev “were produced or gathered in the investigation in Monaco in an illicit and disloyal way” and were biased by violations of an “extreme gravity.”
Bertossa did not respond to request for comment.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect comments from Bouvier and his attorney. A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that lead prosecutor Bertossa had resigned.
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