The Bouvier Affair evolved further last week when Russian billionaire and notable art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev launched a $380 million USD lawsuit against Sotheby’s.
Yves Bouvier, a Swiss arts dealer, has been alleged to have defrauded numerous of his clients by misrepresenting the costs of artworks and subsequently charging buyers grossly exaggerated prices. Lawsuits against Bouvier have been heard in courts across the globe from Monaco, to Singapore, to New York City, to Geneva since 2015.
The most prominent of Bouvier’s allegedly hoodwinked clients is Mr. Rybolovlev. Rybolovlev has claimed that Bouvier overcharged him as much as $1 billion USD in over $2 billion in sales over the span of several years. Now he has expanded his legal offensive to include Sotheby’s, with the art dealer now being targeted by his lawyers in this $380 million USD lawsuit.
Rybolovlev is claiming that Sotheby’s was involved in as many as 12 sales out of the 38 in which he bought works from Bouvier. The lawsuit against Sotheby’s alleges that the dealer was complicit in Bouvier’s purported efforts to misrepresent artworks’ values, by “materially assisting in the largest art fraud in history.”
Rybolovlev’s legal team is arguing that Sotheby’s encouraged Bouvier to give his clients inflated prices by giving him misleading and inaccurate appraisals of their value.
Sotheby’s is rejecting the Russian billionaire’s allegations in their entirety, calling the lawsuit “desperate” and “without merit”. They have stated that they will ask the New York judge for the case’s immediate dismissal.
Sotheby’s, which launched a joint lawsuit with Bouvier intended to pre-empt Rybolovlev’s coming legal onslaught in Geneva last year, is arguing that the current proceedings in the Swiss courts, and other courts internationally – involving Bouvier and Rybolovlev – are sufficient for the affair’s ultimate resolution.
Rybolovlev’s action against Sotheby’s is citing several of the major sales that the latter helped facilitate, including an Amadeo Modigliani he bought in 2011 for $118 million USD and a Gustav Klimt he bought in 2012 for $183.3 million USD.
The recently launched suit even cites the Salvator Mundi, which was key last year when part of the Bouvier Affair was closed by US federal prosecutors. Rybolovlev successfully oversaw the sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for $450 million USD, which he had bought in 2013 from Bouvier for $128 million USD. At the time, Rybolovlev was in the process of arguing in the courts that Bouvier had grafted $40 million USD out of him in the aforementioned 2013 sale – an alleged shortchanging that could only be called farcical after Rybolovlev turned around and sold the work for nearly half a billion dollars. US prosecutors thus closed the case, but the affair is anything but over with this new lawsuit against Sotheby’s and the dispute unresolved in Monaco, Switzerland, Singapore, and France.
Sotheby’s shares have declined steadily since the announcement of Rybolovlev’s suit last Tuesday, dropping from $49.31 USD to $44.72 by October 8th.