French Judge Fines Freeport King Yves Bouvier Massive $30 Million for Reportedly Stolen Picassos
An unnamed "mystery" dealer is at the heart of the case.
Yves Bouvier presented himself in a Paris court on Monday to answer questions and provide information on the sale of reportedly stolen Pablo Picasso paintings and drawings, which were previously owned by the artist’s stepdaughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay, who reported them missing earlier this year.
Bouvier was fined €27 million ($30 million) of which he was told to immediately pony up €5 million ($5.6 million). His attorney, Francis Szpiner, told French newspaper Le Parisien: “When he found out that he was under an international arrest warrant issued by the French justice, he presented himself to the authorities.”
However, his spokesman, Marc Comina, was unable to confirm the international businessman’s whereabouts when artnet News inquired in an email today. On September 15, Comina confirmed to artnet News that Bouvier is now back in Geneva.
Bouvier is vigorously insisting that he performed due diligence on the Picasso works and had no idea they were stolen. Comina told artnet News in a release that “although he considers as unjustified the decision to subject him to an investigation for concealment, he reiterates his full confidence in the justice system and is convinced that the investigation will remove all suspicions against him.”
In March 2013 Bouvier sold two Picasso gouaches Tête de Femme (1957) and Espagnole à l’eventail (1957) to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. Bouvier asserts that he confirmed their authenticity by their appearance in the Zervos catalogue raisonne and further conducted a search through the Art Loss Register (The latter has come under fire in recent months for its questionable handling of works that have been embroiled in a number of international legal disputes).
Previously in 2010, Bouvier sold a Picasso workbook with 58 ink drawings to Rybolovlev. According to Bouvier’s statement, “The two gouaches and the 58 ink drawings have been bought in 2010 through an art dealer acting in the name and for the account of the trust presented as being that of Catherine Hutin-Blay.” Hutin-Blay is the daughter of the artist’s second wife, Jacqueline Roque.
The statement from Bouvier’s camp says “the name of this art dealer, who Yves Bouvier knew very well and with whom he had been working since 2002 has been transmitted to the judge, but won’t be publicly released.”
Around the time that the works were reported missing by Hutin-Blay, artnet News reported that Paris dealer and former Luxembourg Freeport executive Olivier Thomas was detained by French authorities, though it is not clear if he was ever formally charged.
Le Figaro reported that Hutin-Blay claimed Thomas stole three paintings from her: Rembrandt’s Man In A Gold Helmet (1656) along with the two portraits of her mother.
The paintings reportedly disappeared from Hutin-Blay’s home in Mougins, where Picasso had his last workshop, near Grasse in the south of France. Hutin-Blay had asked Thomas to do inventory before moving the works to the Art Transit warehouse, a packaging, transport, and warehouse facility in the northwestern suburbs of Paris.
However, today a source close to the case who insisted on anonymity told artnet News that Thomas is “absolutely not” the dealer in question.
Rybolovlev’s attorney, Tetiana Bersheda, responded to artnet News’ request for comment about today’s proceedings in an email, stating, “We take note of the existence of the international arrest warrant and of today’s placing of Mr Yves Bouvier under investigation for sale of stolen goods. He is now under judicial control by the French criminal authorities.”
Bersheda confirmed that a company associated with Rybolovlev known as Accent Delight, “owns two paintings painted by Pablo Picasso, which are the subject of the investigation, acquired in 2013 through Mr Yves Bouvier.” She continued, “The Company filed a request to be joined as a victim to the complaint filed by Mrs Catherine Hutin-Blay in March for theft and sale of stolen goods which includes those two works of art. Since then, the investigation has been expanded by the French authorities to include acts of fraud and money laundering. ”
After using Bouvier’s services as an art dealer and broker for many years, Bersheda said that in January “when they discovered that they had been victims of acts of fraud on the part of Mr Bouvier, Accent Delight International and Xitrans Finance filed a criminal complaint with the Public Prosecutor of the Principality of Monaco.”
In a statement, Bouvier said the two Picassos “have not been secretly sold on the quiet so that Dmitry Rybolovleb can hide them forever in a safe; on the contrary they have sold by invoice…to decorate the walls of Rybolovlev’s chalet in Gstaad, in view of all his visitors.”
At one point Bouvier said he and Rybolovlev had considered “reselling the goauches to generate cash.” As part of this consideration Bouvier “showed them to a big auction house, in view of a possible public sale.”
He continues, “Who would be crazy enough to put some paintings in for sale if he knows they are stolen?”
We reached out to Catherine Hutin-Blay’s attorney but have not received a response by publication time.
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