A judge in Monaco has thrown out criminal charges of fraud and money laundering against Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who has been embroiled in a years-long dispute with Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev.
Rybolovlev, who alleges that Bouvier defrauded him to the tune of $1 billion by misrepresenting the purchase price of artworks in 38 deals brokered over the course of many years, is still pursuing legal remedies in the US, London, Paris, and Geneva.
But an appellate judge in Monaco said that the investigations in the city-state found that “all investigations were conducted in a biased and unfair way without the defendant being in a position to retrospectively redress these serious anomalies that permanently compromised the balance of rights of the parties,” according to a statement provided to Artnet News by Bouvier’s attorneys.
The timing of the decision, which comes long after a corruption scandal revealed Rybolovlev’s outside influence on Monaco authorities and police, is surprising.
In September 2017, Philippe Narmino, the minister of justice for Monaco, resigned after French newspaper Le Monde published text messages revealing that he worked on Rybolovlev’s behalf to influence the case against Bouvier.
According to reports, Rybolovlev exchanged hundreds of text messages with Narmino that detailed, in part, how the Russian billionaire funded an all-expenses-paid ski trip for Narmino and his wife at the billionaire’s Swiss chalet in Gstaad. He also offered Narmino rides on a private helicopter and other expensive gifts. The French press dubbed the scandal “Monaco-gate.”
The text messages also reportedly suggested that Tetiana Bersheda, Rybolovlev’s attorney, was in close contact with the Monaco police about a plan to arrest Bouvier after “luring” him to the country. Several high-ranking Monaco police officers, including a former police chief, were also reportedly involved. (Bouvier was arrested in Monaco in early 2015 and then released on €10 million bail.)
Narmino, then 64, reportedly took “early retirement” just hours after Le Monde published the text messages, which the newspaper said pointed to “a vast influence-peddling scandal at the heart of Monaco institutions.”
Two months later, in November 2017, Monaco police brought Rybolovlev in for questioning and charged him with unspecified illegal acts in relation to the alleged corruption. Police also searched his home, a luxurious mansion called La Belle Époque, according to Le Monde.
Bouvier’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.
In the statement provided to Artnet News by Bouvier’s attorneys, dealer said: “This victory proves what we have been saying from the very beginning, namely, that the procedure was tainted and completely biased in favor of the Russian oligarch.”
In a statement sent to Artnet News in French, English, and Russian, attorneys for Rybolovlev shot back against Bouvier’s account.
“This decision, which will be challenged and appealed, remains entirely procedural and has no influence on the ongoing case in Geneva, where Yves Bouvier faces charges of fraud against our client in relation to 38 transactions involving the purchase of artworks over a 12-year period and resulting in losses of CHF 1 billion,” the lawyers said. “Yves Bouvier will have to be held accountable for his actions.”
Rybolovlev’s attorneys also addressed the corruption charges made against their client, stressing that “today’s decision concerns only the case of fraud and money laundering alleged against Yves Bouvier” and that it is “unrelated to another ongoing investigation in Monaco concerning charges of traffic of influence and corruption made by Yves Bouvier against Dmitriy Rybolovlev.
“Presumed innocent, Dmitry Rybolovlev remains confident that he will be exonerated in this separate case, in which, after two years of thorough investigations, no evidence against him could be presented.”
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