One of Britain’s most famous auction houses could be pulled into a $1 billion legal battle between a Russian billionaire and a renowned art dealer.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian businessman and owner of AS Monaco football club, is reportedly preparing to take Sotheby’s auction house to a British court to claim it helped an art dealer inflate prices on several pieces of artwork.
Rybolovlev bought around 40 pieces of art, including works by Da Vinci, Picasso, Rothko, Modigliani and Monet, through Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, 54. Nearly a third of the artworks were brought by Bouvier at private sales by Sotheby’s.
A New York court claims classified documents, believed to be valuations, exchanged between Bouvier and Sotheby’s, could be used in courts. Rybolovlev’s lawyers have previously tried to bring cases against Bouvier in France, Singapore and Monaco.
Dmitry Rybolovlev is reportedly preparing to take legal action against Sotheby’s and Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier
Dmitri Rybolovlev with his wife attend the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters
A spokesman for Southeby’s said it would fight any action brought against them by Rybolovlev, claiming any suggestion it had been involved in fraudulent conduct or a conspiracy was ‘categorically false’.
The accusations against Bouvier date back to 2015, where he claims the Swiss art dealer had overcharged him up to £730 million for around 40 pieces of art.
He claims that Southeby’s vice chairman of private sales, Samuel Valette, had written assessments of various artworks which were then sent on to Bouvier.
One piece in particular is Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for £$80 million (£58 million) at a private Sotheby’s sale. That was then sold onto the Russian, worth an estimated £5 billion, for a reported $127 million (£92 million).
Yet Rybolovlev’s claims that he had bought the painting at an inflated price seem to be contradictory to the fact he sold it on for a whopping $450 million (£341 million) – something Bouvier says proves he has not committed any fraud.
President of AS Monaco Dmitri Rybolovlev (left), Prince Albert II of Monaco, President of French Ligue Frederic Thiriez celebrate AS Monaco’s win in the Champions League
File photo dated November 3, 2017 of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi painting on display at a press preview at Christie’s in New York City, New York
Rybolovlev claims Bouvier was acting as an agent for him and had a duty not to bump the price of art up, but the Swiss man said he was acting for himself.
Bouvier allegedly bought the artwork from Sotheby’s under his own name, which suggests he was acting in a personal capacity.
Southeby’s said it had no financial interest or knowledge of what Bouvier planned to do with the pieces of art.
A Sotheby’s spokeswoman said: ‘Sotheby’s regards the claims intimated against it and its employee to be baseless. Mr Rybolovlev has previously attempted to sue Yves Bouvier in France, Monaco and Singapore and has failed. Sotheby’s has not been a party to any of these prior proceedings.’
Southeby’s claimed it was a ‘tactic’ to drag its name into the legal proceedings as Rybolovlev could then pursue another legal case in another jurisdiction.