US Prosecutors Reportedly Open Probe Against ‘Freeport King’ Yves Bouvier

The biggest art scandal in recent history comes to the US.

The US Justice department has opened an inquiry into the dealings of onetime freeport king Yves Bouvier, according to Keri Geiger, writing for BloombergBusiness.

Citing “people familiar with the matter,” Geiger reports that federal prosecutors are now looking into the allegations leveled against Bouvier by billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev as well as other former clients. The criminal charges in the ongoing case against Bouvier in Europe, which include money laundering and fraud, and investigations into allegations of a multi-million dollar mark-up on a Modigliani and a stolen Picasso led in February 2015 to his arrest in Monaco.

“We have not been contacted by the US authorities and are unaware whether—or how—any such inquiry has been initiated,” Daniel Levy, an attorney for Bouvier at McKool Smith in New York, told Bloomberg.

Dmitriy Rybolovlev, at Louis II stadium in Monaco, March 1, 2015 <br>Photo: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Dmitriy Rybolovlev, at Louis II stadium in Monaco, March 1, 2015. 
Photo: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images.

The case, perhaps the biggest art world scandal in recent history, has sent shockwaves through the European art market, exposing some of its most opaque transactions that involve not only a web of dealers and middlemen, but could also have ties to art smuggling and money laundering.

US federal authorities are now examining the case for the first time, and if the investigation advances, Bouvier could face fraud charges in the US, according to Geiger. Prosecutors are looking at the extent to which Bouvier “may have misrepresented to clients how much he’d marked up prices,” in deals involving works by Amedeo Modigliani, Gustav Klimt, Mark Rothko, and more.

At the heart of the federal authorities’ investigation, however, is the sensationally rediscovered 16th century painting of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, which Bouvier sold to Rybolovlev for $127.5 million in 2013.

Leonardo da Vinci. Salvatore Mundi (circa 1515).

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvatore Mundi (circa 1515).
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In a New Yorker piece about the Bouvier case from February, journalist Sam Knight describes the Russian oligarch’s interest in the Da Vinci as “profound:”

On its display at the National Gallery in London, the da Vinci became one of the most talked-about pictures in the world. According to Rappo [who introduced Rybolovlev to Bouvier], Rybolovlev wanted it for the wall of his study. Bouvier brought the painting to the Russian’s apartment in New York, where, Rybolovlev told me, he experienced a profound emotional reaction—“a vibration”—in its presence. He bought the picture for $127.5 million.

In the Monaco complaint, Rybolovlev said he had paid roughly $50 million more than what the seller had received, alleging Bouvier pocketed the difference.

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