The Genevan art dealer Yves Bouvier allegedly owes unpaid Swiss taxes on CHF330m (£276m) of profits made through the sale of around CHF2bn (£1.7bn) of art to the Russian collector Dimitry Rybolovlev, according to documents unsealed yesterday by Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court.
The documents were seized in 2017 but Bouvier and his lawyers, Anna Pivin and Pierre-Alain Guillaume of Walder Wyss, have argued they should be kept sealed due to attorney-client confidentiality. Yesterday, however, the Federal Criminal Court ruled that some of these documents must be examined, report the Swiss newspapers Le Temps, 24 Heures and Tribune de Genève.
The calculations were made by the Swiss Federal Tax Administration (AFC), which started an investigation into Bouvier and two offshore companies he owned in March 2017, suspecting the art dealer of not having declared all of his income between 2007 and 2015. At the start of its investigation in 2017, the AFC estimated Bouvier owed CHF165m (£138m) in unpaid taxes in Switzerland.
The dispute hinges on whether the sales were made in Switzerland or Singapore. Although the sales were conducted by two off-shore companies, the tax office believes Bouvier was operating from his hometown of Geneva. Bouvier claims he has been a resident of Singapore since 2009 and is therefore not required to pay Swiss tax. The AFC, however, claims that his Singapore domicile is fictitious. Yesterday's ruling relates purely to the possible unsealing of the documents which will be examined one by one, and the court has not yet addressed any accusations of tax avoidance.
Bouvier declined to comment to The Art Newspaper but Guillaume, his lawyer, says "the purpose of the decision is not to assess any tax recapture" but "only to determine whether documents benefitting from the attorney-client privilege and seized in 2017 may be unsealed or not." He adds that Bouvier "disagrees with the decision and will file an appeal to the Swiss Supreme Court in due course".