In the latest chapter of an epic legal saga that has gripped the art world for years now, the Russian oligarch and art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev was detained for questioning on allegations of corruption at the request of a Monaco judge today, according to reports in Le Monde, Bloomberg, and the Financial Times. Rybolovlev’s home in the principality, known as the Belle Époque, was also raided in connection with the request.
Rybolovlev, who has been listed on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list since 2012, made his billions in fertilizer. Last November, he famously sold Salvator Mundi, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, at Christie’s in New York for $450.3 million, the most ever paid for an artwork at auction, and he has also drawn attention as the buyer of a Florida mansion from President Trump in 2008.
According to Le Monde, Rybolovlev was detained for “ ‘corruption,’ ‘trading of active and passive influence,’ and the complicity of these offenses.” Reportedly under investigation is whether Rybolovlev used his influence in Monaco, where he is the owner of the country’s soccer team AS Monaco FC, in an ongoing battle with the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who previously sold him some $2 billion worth of art at prices that Rybolovlev alleges were improperly inflated.
Ensuing court battles have taken places in Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Monaco, and in 2015, Bouvier, who has denied all wrongdoing, was arrested by Monegasque officials on his way to meet with Rybolovlev. The new inquiry has centered on whether Rybolovlev, through his soccer team, “unduly influenced” Bouvier’s arrest by giving police official VIP season tickets to Monaco FC games, according to a lengthy report published in the New York Times in September.
In a statement published in the Bloomberg report, Rybolovlev’s lawyers said, “We regret the violation of the secrecy of the investigation, and we ask that Dmitry Rybolovlev’s presumption of innocence is rigorously respected.”
The Bouvier-Rybolovlev case—or the “Rybolovlev Affair” as Monaco’s Prince Albert II has termed it—began several years before 2015. Bouvier had made his career with an art storage and transportation company, but around 2000, he also began dealing art. Rybolovlev was his client for around ten years, beginning in 2003.
During that time, Bouvier helped Rybolovlev acquire 38 works for around $2 billion. Rybolovlev has alleged that Bouvier defrauded him in the sum of $1 billion by marking up works he was selling without telling him. A 2015 article in the New York Times reported that Rybolovlev believed Bouvier, acting as his adviser, was negotiating the best price for his client and taking only a 2 percent fee, based on the price paid for the acquisition. Bouvier has countered that his role was as an art dealer and that he was entitled to charge Rybolovlev for the work at any sum.
Rybolovlev reportedly first began to question Bouvier’s practices in 2014, when he learned that a Modigliani painting Bouvier had helped him acquire for $118 million was sold by hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen for $93.5 million. In 2015, Rybolovlev publicly announced that he was returning two paintings by Picasso to the artist’s stepdaughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay, who said they were stolen from her. Rybolovlev had acquired them for $30 million from Bouvier. (Bouvier has said that he thought the sellers were acting on behalf of Hutin-Blay.)
“If the market were more transparent, these things wouldn’t happen,” Rybolovlev said at the time.