Swiss prosecutors reportedly launched an investigation into Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev over a year ago, in early 2021, even though news of it has only recently come to light.
Citing a November 2 story on the Swiss investigative news site Gotham City AFP reported last week that Rybolovev and his lawyer are the subject of an investigation by the Public Ministry of the Confederation (MPC), for “suspected acts illegally carried out for a foreign power.” Gotham City described the move as an “extremely rare procedure in Swiss law.” The Swiss attorney general has provided no other details on the case, but stressed to AFP that Rybolovlev should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The news is the latest tangle in the years-long international legal battle between Rybolovlev and Swiss art dealer and former free port owner Yves Bouvier.
Rybolovlev alleges that Bouvier overcharged him to the level of roughly $1 billion, on sales worth around $2 billion of works by artists including Amedeo Modigliani and Picasso, by creating inflated mark-ups. Bouvier’s contends that he was free to charge whatever mark-up he saw fit.
More recently, Bouvier adding startling accusations that he was being targeted for his refusal to lie about art values in Rybolovlev’s high-stakes divorce proceedings, and that the Russian billionaire sought to “seize” his lucrative free port storage business in order to pass control to the Kremlin.
The saga has been playing out for the past eight years with Rybolovlev doggedly pursuing Bouvier with civil and criminal charges and legal maneuvers, in various countries including Switzerland, Singapore, and Monaco, and through related litigation in the U.S.
The “foreign state” accusations refers to an influence-peddling scandal uncovered in Monaco, dubbed “Monaco-gate,” where texts and other communications revealed that Rybolovlev exchanged gifts and favors with high-ranking police officials in exchange for law enforcement actions against Bouvier. At least one Monaco official resigned as a result, explaining that he was seeking an “early retirement.”
This new Swiss investigation into Rybolovlev appears to stem from legal complaints made by Bouvier. According to a statement from Bouvier’s representatives, shared with Artnet News: “The investigation into Rybolovlev and his lawyer Tetiana Bersheda required approval from the Federal Council and the decision was submitted to the General Secretariat of the Federal Department of Justice and Police. A complaint was initially filed by Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier in September 2017. The investigation officially opened in February 2021.”
The statement adds that, according to a judgment from the Swiss Federal Criminal Court on 20 October 2022, Rybolovlev and Bersheda tried and failed to prevent Yves Bouvier from participating in the procedure as a private plaintiff.
“We welcome the latest decision of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court and are encouraged by the ongoing investigation into the actions of Mr. Rybolovlev and Ms. Bersheda,” said David Bitton, Bouvier’s attorney in Geneva.
Bouvier himself stated: “A Russian oligarch used all the vast means at his disposal to destroy me. He launched bogus lawsuits to kill my business and reputation. He paid private intelligence companies to follow and harass me. All of my legal teams have been targeted by sophisticated hacking attempts. Worst of all, he used his wealth and influence to corrupt European institutions and have me arrested in Monaco.”
Bouvier says Rybolovlev’s actions were an attempt “to punish me for having refused to corrupt Swiss judges and devalue his art collection during his divorce procedure, and to seize control of my free port businesses so they could be used by the Kremlin.”
Asked for comment, Rybolovlev’s attorneys Sandrine Giroud and Benoît Mauron said in an email: “The ruling of the Court is purely procedural. In no way does this ruling prejudge the merits of the case. The ruling simply clarifies the status of Mr. Yves Bouvier as the plaintiff in a case against our client about an alleged violation of Swiss sovereignty. Mr. Dmitriy Rybolovlev denies any wrongdoing and intends to prove his innocence.”
Giroud and Mauron said Bouvier’s complaint is an attempt to “divert attention from Mr. Bouvier’s own dishonest conduct,” noting that there is an investigation in a separate criminal case in Geneva against him.
As Artnet News reported this past summer, Bouvier was finally able to get charges from a Swiss court dropped in summer 2021, only to have Rybolovlev successfully appeal and, in a surprise twist, have the criminal charges reinstated this past July.
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