In an extraordinary twist, the repercussions of the long-running feud between the the Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev and the Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier have reached the upper echelons of the French government.
From 6-17 November, France's minister of justice, Eric Dupont-Moretti, will stand trial in high court on charges relating to a series of alleged conflicts of interest. If the minister is found guilty, he faces a five-year prison term and would inevitably have to leave office.
Before being appointed minister of justice in 2020 by President Emmanuel Macron, Dupont-Moretti was a high-powered criminal defence attorney, known for his sanguine temperament and aggressive appearances in court.
The minister is accused of having harassed judges he had clashed with during his career as a lawyer. The most prominent case in the 143-page document detailing the charges against him and revealed by the newspaper Le Monde, relates to his role as attorney for Rybolovlev and the Monaco chief of the judiciary police Christophe Haget.
From 2015 to 2017, Dupont-Moretti represented Rybolovlev as a civil party in Paris in the case of the alleged theft of Picasso works sold by Bouvier to the Russian collector.
Since 2015, the Russian oligarch has been accusing Bouvier of having swindled him out of €1.1bn in the sale of 38 works of art. A criminal procedure is still underway in Switzerland. But a previous case, initiated by Rybolovlev in Monaco, was dismissed in 2019 for being "partial and disloyal" towards the Swiss dealer. The principality’s court of appeal concluded that the legal authorities had “undermined the defendant’s rights“ by helping Rybolovlev in secret during the investigation.
Edouard Levrault, a French judge based in Monaco, charged Rybolovlev and Haget, among others, with bribery.
However, according to the indictment cited by Le Monde, Levrault was removed from his post after an exchange between Prince Albert of Monaco and President Emmanuel Macron.
In June 2020, acting on behalf of Haget, Dupont-Moretti filed a complaint against the judge, who had implied during a TV talk show that he had been fired because he was investigating Rybolovlev. An administrative investigation was subsequently launched against Judge Levrault (he was cleared of any disciplinary breach in mid-September). Dupont-Moretti was appointed justice minister a month later.
He is now accused of having abused his position as justice minister to retaliate against Judge Levrault with whom he was in “proven conflict“.
Accused of having “acted out of vindictiveness“ against Levrault and other judges, Dupont-Moretti denies wrongdoing. He described the charges as a “biased accusation, which did not respect his basic rights“.
UPDATE: This article was amended to reflect that Eric Dupont-Moretti was Dmitry Rybolovlev's attorney as a civil party in Paris in a criminal procedure against Yves Bouvier, but did not represent him in the criminal case in Monaco.