The Sprawling Legal Dispute Between Yves Bouvier and Dmitry Rybolovlev Is Finally Over

A bitter international fight over allegedly inflated art prices has finally come to an end.

Yves Bouvier flipped the Salvator Mundi for an enormous profit. Film still from The Last Leonardo. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

A dramatic legal battle between two billionaires—Swiss dealer Yves Bouvier and Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev—that played out in jurisdictions across the world has finally come to an end.

According to statements from representatives for each man, and confirmed by a statement from Swiss prosecutors, the claims that stem from an alleged $1 billion overcharge on 38 blue-chip art transactions worth over $2 billion, have finally been settled.

Sandrine Giroud, a Geneva-based attorney for Rybolovlev, confirmed the settlement, and said the terms are confidential.

“The parties have reached a confidential settlement concerning all their disputes that involved proceedings in various jurisdictions,” the statement from Giroud and her partner, Benoît Mauron, reads. “They have no claims against each other and will refrain from commenting on their past disputes.”

“Today marks the end of a nine-year nightmare. Courts all around the world have now unanimously concluded that I was innocent,” Bouvier said in a statement shared by his attorneys Monfrini Bitton Klein, in Geneva. “I am immensely grateful to my family, friends, lawyers, advisers and all the people who believed in me and helped me to clear my name. I also want to thank the judicial and law enforcement authorities in all countries who have allowed true justice to run its course.”

Russian businessperson Dmitry Rybolovlev poses in Paris on September 24, 2015 in front of two allegedly stolen paintings by Pablo Picasso, Espagnole a l'Eventail (left) and Femme se Coiffant, which he purchased from Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier. Image courtesy AFP Photo/Patrick Kovarik.

Russian businessperson Dmitry Rybolovlev poses in Paris on September 24, 2015 in front of two allegedly stolen paintings by Pablo Picasso, Espagnole a l’Eventail (left) and Femme se Coiffant, which he purchased from Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier. Image courtesy AFP Photo/Patrick Kovarik.

One of Bouvier’s attorneys, David Bitton added: “All the allegations against Mr. Bouvier were set aside by prosecutors around the world, and not a single court agreed to open a proper trial to review the accusations. This is a complete victory for my client. I want to thank all the lawyers throughout the world who stubbornly fought for justice and successfully defended the innocence of Mr. Bouvier.”

At the center of the dispute, which began eight years ago after Rybolovlev accused Bouvier of flipping the art in the purchases to him at a mark up, despite Rybolovlev’s belief that Bouvier was acting as his agent and advisor, is the question of what disclosures art dealers must make to clients. Bouvier has said in court papers he was not an agent or advisor in the deals and was free to charge clients what he wanted. 

Bouvier was arrested on criminal charges in Monaco in early 2015.

But Rybolovlev’s efforts to prosecute Bouvier there devolved into a scandal dubbed “Monaco-gate,” when it emerged that Rybolovlev had allegedly bribed police officials with lavish gifts in exchange for pursuing criminal charges against Bouvier. Similar attempts to detain or prosecute Bouvier in Singapore were also unsuccessful.

Rybolovlev is presumed innocent, and so far, has only been placed under formal investigation, his attorneys noted. It is yet to be seen whether the investigating magistrates will decide to send the matter to trial.

An appellate judge in Monaco said in late 2019 that the proceedings in the city-state found that “all investigations were conducted in a biased and unfair way without the defendant being in a position to retrospectively redress these serious anomalies that permanently compromised the balance of rights of the parties,” according to a statement provided to Artnet News by Bouvier’s attorneys at the time.

Back in Switzerland, by a judgment delivered July 26, 2022, the Criminal Appeal Chamber of the Court of Justice annulled a previous judgment and referred the case to the Public Prosecutor’s Office to resume the investigation. 

On November 20, 2023, “the parties informed the Public Prosecutor’s Office that they had reached an agreement, with the plaintiffs indicating that they were withdrawing their criminal complaints and their status as plaintiff,” according to the statement shared with Artnet. “The parties requested that the criminal proceedings not be pursued and indicated that they would not oppose a discontinuance.”

In view of these elements, the Public Prosecutor’s Office closed the procedure by order of December 6, 2023, stating that it had carried out several hearings, which did not provide any evidence allowing sufficient suspicion to be raised against Bouvier, and with the procedural costs, set at CHF 100,000 ($113,750) being charged to Bouvier. It was not clear why the procedural costs for the matter fell to Bouvier.

“No further comments will be made,” according to the Swiss prosecutor’s statement.

Despite the confidential settlement between the two men, Rybolovlev is still proceeding with litigation he brought against Sotheby’s alleging that they played a major role in helping Bouvier inflate prices over the years. That case is set to go to trial in New York next month.

Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge ruled largely in favor of Sotheby’s in its efforts to dismiss Rybolovlev’s lawsuit. 

While Sotheby’s won dismissal of most of the fraud claims, it still could face some issues at trial, namely on the question of whether Sotheby’s aided Bouvier’s allegedly fraudulent sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi.

Bouvier acquired the work for $83 million in 2013 and then immediately sold it to Rybolovlev for $127 million. In 2017, Rybolovlev auctioned the work at Christie’s, where it went for a stunning $450 million—becoming the most expensive work ever sold at auction. (It was reportedly bought by Saudi Arabian royal Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.)

Rybolovlev also said that Sotheby’s aided Bouvier’s allegedly fraudulent sales of Rene Magritte’s Le Domaine d’Arnheim and Gustav Klimt’s Wasserschlangen II, as well Amedeo Modigliani’s Tête.

A representative for Sotheby’s shared this statement with Artnet: “Sotheby’s welcomes the news that Dmitry Rybolovlev and Yves Bouvier have resolved their long-running dispute and that the Geneva cantonal prosecutors have closed their investigation of Mr. Bouvier. Sotheby’s acted appropriately in all of its transactions with Mr. Bouvier, a fact that is further supported by these developments.”


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