The Swiss businessman and freeport magnate Yves Bouvier won a crucial battle in Tuesday in Singapore, where a civil court of appeal decided that the country does not have the jurisdiction to consider a lawsuit filed against him by the Russian billionaire collector Dmitry Rybolovlev. In a 59-page decision released on 18 April, the high court states that Switzerland is likely to be the appropriate forum for the case.
This contradicts a March 2016 decision by a senior Singapore judge, who said Rybolovlev would suffer “grave prejudice” if the lawsuit were filed in Geneva, where his “proprietary and equitable claims” could not be recognised. Rybolovlev must now decide where he will launch a new civil claim seeking financial damages, following his criminal complaint in Monaco.
The Singapore lawsuit was filed in March 2015, one month after Yves Bouvier was arrested in Monte Carlo and charged with fraud and money laundering. The Russian billionaire accuses Bouvier of having made €1bn in “undue profits” by overcharging him for an art collection Rybolovlev spent around €2bn in total to buy.
The Singapore court stresses that both parties signed four contracts for the sale of four paintings from 2003 to 2006, which were exclusively governed by Swiss law, and nothing apparently “changed when they went into an oral agreement” for the 30 or so transactions that followed. Their deals took place in Geneva and payments were made through Swiss banks accounts. Until 2009, both men were also based in Switzerland.
Rybolovlev then moved to Monaco, where he purchased the local top tier French football club. He also started to move his art collection to Bouvier’s freeport in Singapore, as he intended to shield his assets from the Russian authorities and his wife Elena, who had filed for divorce. The same year, Bouvier became a permanent resident in Singapore. But the court found these facts held no “real significance” as they did not alter “the character of their relationship”.
The appeals court therefore decided that “Switzerland is clearly and distinctly a more appropriate forum than Singapore for the determination of their dispute”, and said it had “no hesitation” in rejecting the argument that Rybolovlev would be deprived of justice if he filed his lawsuit in Geneva. The court of appeal also closed the door to a transfer of the case to Singapore’s own International Commercial Court.
A spokesman for Rybolovlev's companies, Xitrans and Accent Delight, says the "decision contains no finding on the substance" of their dispute and "merely constitutes another procedural incident in a complex international litigation".