This could well be 2015’s biggest art scandal. Following his arrest in Monaco, Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier has been indicted for fraud and complicity in money laundering, Le Temps reports (see Swiss Freeport King Yves Bouvier Will Stay in Custody for Extra 48 Hours). He has been placed under judicial supervision, and is free to leave the principality provided he posts €10 million bail ($11.2 million) (see Arrest of Swiss Freeport Owner Yves Bouvier Over Art Fraud Ring Rocks Art World).
Bouvier is accused of having overcharged the Russian oligarch and owner of a Monaco football club, Dmitry Rybolovlev, when acting as middleman during the sales of high-value artworks. According to Le Monde, Bouvier’s official commission for the transactions was 2 percent. He worked for the Russian family for ten years. A meeting between Bouvier and Rybolovlev was due to take place on Friday.
The Swiss businessman and art dealer is among the art world’s most prominent figures. He is a majority shareholder and president of Natural Le Coultre S.A., a global storage business overseeing freeports in Geneva, Luxembourg, and Singapore (see Le Freeport Opens in Luxembourg).
Rybolovlev Suspected Something Wasn’t Right
According to Le Temps, Bouvier used offshore companies to cover up the sales of artworks stored in freeports. In such transactions, buyer and seller don’t have any contact. It’s allegedly only after meeting the seller of one of his acquisitions by chance and discussing the price with him, that Rybolovlev started suspecting that something wasn’t right.
A Swiss female accomplice has been indicted for money laundering alongside Bouvier. The Russian-speaking wife of Rybolovlev’s dentist was close to Elena Rybolovleva, the oligarch’s ex-wife, and she is suspected of having acted as a translator-cum-go-between for the family and Bouvier.
According to the Guardian, Rybolovlev’s art collection is worth an estimated $1 billion, and features the work of key modern masters including Picasso, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. The complaint has been filed by his family trust, which owns the paintings, but the collector was called in as a witness and art expert.
Speaking on behalf of Bouvier, lawyers Luc Brossollet and Charles Lecuyer have denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Implications For R4
Bouvier’s legal troubles could have direct implications for the Jean Nouvel-designed R4, an immense art hub set to open on the Île Seguin—an island on the Seine in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt (see Paris Will Get €150 Million Jean Nouvel-designed Art Island). Building works are due to start next summer, and Bouvier is footing the €150 million ($167 million) bill. The French press describes R4 as possible “collateral damage” of Bouvier’s probation.
If R4 falls through, it’ll be the third time a major art project has failed to get off the ground at the Île Seguin. Both mega-collectors François Pinault and Cartier Foundation’s Dominique Perrin hoped to open their respective foundations on its industrial shores at some point, but nothing ever came of it. “Is the island cursed?” asks Les Echos.
R4 didn’t immediately respond to artnet News’ request for comments.Follow artnet News on Facebook.