Art market

Monaco court dismisses criminal case against Yves Bouvier

The Swiss art dealer had been accused of fraud and money laundering by the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev—a related case in Geneva remains active

Yves Bouvier Hpetit21/Creative Commons

The criminal case accusing Yves Bouvier of fraud and money laundering, which has been making the headlines since it was brought against the Swiss art dealer by the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2015, has been definitively dismissed by a Monaco court today. Criminal proceedings against Bouvier—again brought by Rybolovlev accusing him of fraud, abuse of trust and money laundering—are still underway in Geneva.

Monaco's High Court confirmed a judgement passed by the Court of Appeal in December 2019 which annulled the whole investigation on the grounds that it had been proven "partial and disloyal". The court did not rule on the accusations of fraud, but accepted evidence that the legal authorities "undermined the defendant's rights" by helping Rybolovlev and his lawyer Tetiana Bersheda in secret. The Russian businessman is a prominent personality in the principality, where he owns the football club AS Monaco.

“It is a total and definitive victory in Monaco," Bouvier says in a statement issued today. "For the last five years, I have been claiming my innocence, and today I have been vindicated by the Monaco courts. I am happy, after five years of legal battles organized by Mr. Rybolovlev and [his lawyer] Tetiana Bersheda, that the Monaco justice system cancelled all proceedings against me. Today’s decision shows that money does not buy the courts and that corruption has no place in the principality."

Technically, Rybolovlev could reactivate his complaint and start a fresh investigation. But according to a source close to him, the Russian intends to focus on the case in Geneva. "This outcome has come about for purely procedural reasons—and not because of an absence of evidence against Yves Bouvier," say Rybolovlev's lawyers, Hervé Temime and Thomas Giaccardi, in a statement.

Switzerland is now the stage for the colossal fight between the two billionaires, which has played out around the world for the past five years. In February 2018, after a new complaint filed by Rybolovlev in Geneva, Switzerland's top federal prosecutor laid charges of fraud against Bouvier, who was already the subject of a fiscal investigation. Bouvier, who has always maintained his innocence, says he will come clean from these last procedures. Claiming that his opponent “has done everything to destroy his business and reputation“, he sold his shipping company Natural Lecoultre in 2017, while maintaining his share in the Luxembourg and Singapore freeports.

Rybolovlev accuses Bouvier of selling him $2bn worth of works of art—including Leonardo's Salvator Mundi—from which he had allegedly taken a total markup of $1bn over 12 years. He argues that the Swiss businessman, acting as his agent, was not allowed to take commissions in secret. Bouvier, in turn, says that he was operating as a dealer and was free to take a cut. Their feud became public when Bouvier was ambushed and arrested in Monaco in 2015. According to Monaco’s court of appeal, Rybolovlev "has benefited all along from occult favours" from the investigators, the chief of judicial police and even the general prosecutor, including legal counselling, "which were only interrupted when they were revealed" in a separate criminal investigation, which led in turn to Rybolovlev being charged in 2018 for corruption and influence peddling.