Dmitry Rybolovlev. Photo: Franck Nataf.

New York Courts Allow Russian Collector to Use Confidential Documents for International Legal Proceedings

On December 22, a New York court filed an order stating that Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev is allowed to use confidential documents from Sotheby’s for an imminent lawsuit in the United Kingdom and extant legal proceedings in Switzerland, writes Anny Shaw of the Art Newspaper. The action may allow for Rybolovlev to put forward a fresh case in London’s high court against Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier. The billionaire is accusing the dealer of defrauding him by $1 billion in the 2013 purchase thirty-eight artworks, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, ca. 1500, which was bought in November 2017 by a Saudi prince through Christie’s for $450 million, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold. The UK lawsuit is also threatening to involve Sotheby’s and its vice chairman of private sales worldwide, Samuel Valette, whom Rybolovlev claims was part of Bouvier’s scheme.

David Michael Edwards, Rybolovlev’s lawyer, alleges the documents contain evidence that Sotheby’s and Valette knew Bouvier was working on behalf of a client buying artworks, and that Sotheby’s helped Bouvier by providing paperwork that advised Rybolovlev to acquire work at “grossly inflated” prices. Sotheby’s, however, says the claims are “baseless,” and that Rybolovlev is “using Sotheby’s location in England as an excuse to continue his worldwide dispute with Mr. Bouvier in the English courts.” Bouvier and the auction house, in order to stop the UK legal proceedings, filed a joint conciliation proceeding in Geneva, which declares that they are not responsible for any wrongdoing. In the filing, Sotheby’s claims that it was not aware of the resale prices being charged to Rybolovlev’s trusts by Bouvier, and that it did not benefit from any resales.

Bouvier also claims that he was never the billionaire’s broker, as Rybolovlev has suggested, and says that he was only charging him market prices. Bouvier’s New York lawyer, Dan Levy, said that under the Lugano Convention, the Geneva filing will be dismissed sooner or later, even if litigation is taken into the UK.