Power of habit. Dmitry Rybolovlev tried to bribe Monaco law enforcement authorities
Dmitry Rybolovlev, former owner of Uralkali, has been charged with corruption. The Monaco Prosecution believes that the Russian billionaire has bribed a number of high-ranked law enforcement officials and judges of the Principality. The scandal dubbed “Monacogate” by the press has already resulted in the resignation of Monaco Minister of Justice Philippe Narmino. The media became aware of his vacationing in Rybolovlev’s residences with wife and son and gifts received from the oligarch. Whom is Rybolovlev suing? Why does the billionaire consider himself a victim of fraud? Would the Western justice ultimately drop all the charges laid against him – like it was with Senator Suleyman Kerimov?
On November 6, 2018, Le Monde newspaper reported the arrest of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, President of AS Monaco FC. The arrest was authorized by a Monaco judge: the Russian businessman, whose wealth is estimated at $6.8 billion by Forbes, is suspected of corruption and "active and passive influence peddling". His deluxe apartment in La Belle Époque residential complex has been searched.
La Belle Époque
The former owner of Uralkali has purchased a two-storey penthouse on the Mediterranean shore at a record-breaking price exceeding €300 million. But the acquisition was worth it: La Belle Époque apartments are considered among the best in the world; in Monaco, only the residence of the Prince is on par with it.
Dmitry Rybolovlev was born in 1966 in Perm. In 1990, graduated from the Medical Department of the Perm Medical Institute. During the university days, has founded, jointly with his father teaching in the same institute, Magnetix company specializing in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases with magnetotherapy. In 1992, received a stock broker’s license and founded Finansovy Dom (Financial House) Investment Company. In two years, acquired a large portfolio of shares in Uralkali at voucher auctions. In 1994, took charge of Credit FB Bank. In 1996, was arrested and charged with the murder of Evgeny Panteleimonov, General Director of Neftekhimik Joint Stock Company. In 1997, was fully acquitted by the Perm Regional Court. By 2000, acquired 63% of shares in Uralkali; was the Chairman of its Board of Directors up until 2011. In 2010–2011, sold his portfolio in Uralkali to Suleyman Kerimov, Filaret Gal’chev, and Aleksander Nesis for more than $5 billion. In 2011, relocated to Monaco, purchased AS Monaco FC, and became its President. Divorced, has two daughters: Ekaterina and Anna.
La Belle Époque
The two-storey penthouse with a living space of some 1,600 square meters belonging to Rybolovlev is divided into two separate sections; each of those includes several living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and washrooms. Clothes closets there are larger than bedrooms in some mansions. The classic interiors are made of expensive natural materials. The penthouse features a cinema with top-notch equipment, pool room, SPA with Jacuzzi, and two-level library. The property is under 24-hour protection; it has armored doors and bullet-proof windows. There is also a special bunker that can be used as a shelter in case of an assault.
The penthouse features a vast private terrace where residents and guests may take a walk under the trees. They may also swim in the pool with an amazing marina view – the yacht anchorage is located within walking distance from La Belle Époque. Perhaps, Rybolovlev has purchased the penthouse because of its outlook – early this year, the billionaire started building a new 110-m yacht in the Netherlands. Photos of this as-yet-unnamed vessel referred to as Project 1007 are already available on the Internet. The estimated cost of the yacht, including the interiors, is some $500 million. The ship is designed by Michael Leach who used to decorate 96-m Palladium yacht belonging to Mikhail Prokhorov. The four-deck superyacht of Rybolovlev will adorn the marina clearly visible from the terrace of his penthouse.
According to Le Monde, not only the penthouse of Rybolovlev in La Belle Époque was searched – but his Monte Carlo office as well. Documents, cell phones, and computers were seized. The newspaper does not specify whether another Monaco residence of the former Uralkali owner – a deluxe apartment on Boulevard de Suisse – was searched or not. Other assets belonging to Rybolovlev and his family are located outside the Principality – i.e. beyond the reach of the Monaco law enforcement authorities.
The oligarch also owns numerous real properties in Switzerland, London, Saint-Tropez, New York, and Miami. One of the mansions – Maison de L'Amite in Florida – was purchased by Rybolovlev in 2008 from future President Donald Trump. The Russian billionaire paid $95 million for a ‘humble’ villa with a living space of 60 thousand square feet in Palm Beach. This deal became the most expensive real estate acquisition in the USA of all time.
In fact, Maison de L'Amite is an estate some 2.5 ha in size. It features the main home with 15 bedrooms and washrooms, several guest homes, a swimming pool, tennis courts, winter garden, garage for 50 cars, and private beach. However, the Russian oligarch decided that the property was not luxurious enough and launched renovations immediately after the acquisition. Now the mansion features galleries with marble columns, Venetian molding, and candelabra plated by 24-carat gold. Still, the new owner was likely displeased with the result – he had never vacated in Maison de L'Amite. Instead, he has divided the property into several parts and sold those with profit.
Maison de L'Amite
Rybolovlev likes a mansion in Hawaii earlier belonging to actor Will Smith much more than Maison de L'Amite. The billionaire purchased it in 2013 for $20 million. The home with a living space of 200 square meters features only three bedrooms, three washrooms, a swimming pool, and tennis and volleyball courts. This is pretty humble by Rybolovlev’s standard – but the ocean is nearby, while the billionaire is a fan of fishing.
The former ‘king of potassium fertilizers’ values good nibble so high that he has prohibited Greek fishermen from fishing near Scorpios island in the Ionian Sea under a fine of €30 thousand. This is a legendary island: former First Lady of the United States Jacqueline Kennedy had married there magnate Aristotle Onassis in 1968. Rybolovlev purchased the island from Athina Roussel (Onassis) in 2013 for $120 million. The billionaire donated it to his daughter. Ekaterina continued the romantic tradition and married Uruguayan financier Juan Sartori on Scorpios. The newlyweds have settled in a 10-room penthouse at 15 Central Park West, New York. Rybolovlev purchased this apartment with a living space of 630 square meters at a record-breaking for New York price of $88 million in 2011 and granted it to Ekaterina. The billionaire prefers to live in La Belle Époque in Monaco and calls this residence his home.
Dmitry Rybolovlev and his daughter
Definitely, the Russian billionaire was displeased with the searches carried out in his home. However, he could do nothing with that – because the oligarch was questioned at the police station at that time. He has spent there the entire night. Only on the next day – November 7 – the former Uralkali owner has been released and permitted to return to his La Belle Époque penthouse. According to Rybolovlev's lawyers Hervé Temime and Thomas Giaccardi, after the questioning, the businessman has been released under the judicial control and may leave Monaco any time. His movements are not restricted; however, Rybolovlev is prohibited from meeting with persons involved in the investigation and must attend the judge upon receiving a summons.
According to Nice-Matin newspaper, Rybolovlev has been charged with corruption. Monaco-Matin reports that a number of former Monaco judicial officials, including high-ranked ones, have been detained together with the oligarch. Similarly with Rybolovlev, all of them have spent the night of November 6 to 7 in custody and continued answering questions in the morning. The arrests were made not only in Monaco, but in Nice as well. “This may pertain to a new hearing of the case against Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier,” – Nice-Matin and some other newspapers conclude.
The story resulting in the unprecedentedly large-scale, for the Principality, arrests has begun after the Rybolovlev's decision to build “the best collection of world masterpieces”.
His agent was famous Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier managing depots storing pieces of art, expensive wines, and precious metals. In 2003, Bouvier assisted the Uralkali owner in the acquisition of a van Gogh’s painting and some 40 other masterpieces whose total value amounts to nearly $2 billion. As a result, by 2014, the Russian businessman has amassed the best private collection of paintings in the world.
The paintings purchased by Rybolovlev with the assistance of Yves Bouvier include Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. In 2013, the billionaire has paid $125.7 million to the art dealer for the priceless masterpiece. However, in 2015, the new owner became aware that Bouvier had acquired the painting at a price almost $50 million cheaper. The outraged oligarch checked the other deals and concluded that he had overpaid some $1 billion to Bouvier. For instance, Sandy Heller, art advisor for hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen, told the Russian collector that he had sold Modigliani’ Nude on a Blue Cushion to some “mysterious buyer” for $93.5 million. This ‘buyer’ was Rybolovlev himself – and he has paid $118 million to Bouvier for this piece of art.
For more than 10 years, the businessman had paid the art dealer some 2% commission and covered his costs. However, Yves Bouvier was not satisfied with this – he had received significant discounts from the sellers, overcharged the prices for the businessman, and pocketed the difference. To restore justice, Rybolovlev addressed the court accusing the art dealer of unjustified overpricing and requesting to seize his financial assets kept on offshore accounts. A lengthy litigation has begun; it is still ongoing. The courts had ruled to seize Bouvier’s assets several times – but then recognized that the litigation must be held in Switzerland because the defendant is a Swiss citizen.
To expedite the proceedings and tip the Themis’ scales in his favor, Rybolovlev decided to employ a scheme repeatedly tested and proven successful in Russia.
According to the French media, the businessmen established friendly ties with people able to affect the outcome of his litigation with Bouvier. In 2015, these ties resulted in the arrest of the art dealer in Monaco – where he had arrived to discuss with Rybolovlev the sale of a Mark Rothko’s painting for $140 million. Bouvier has been charged with fraud because the cost of the masterpiece was almost €80 million lower than the price requested by the dealer.
However, Bouvier has been released on bail of €10 million soon. The dealer denies any guilt and claims that he has sold the art pieces to the billionaire at the prices he was willing to pay. In turn, Bouvier accused Rybolovlev of bribing the Monaco law enforcement authorities. French journalists supported the art dealer, and a scandal dubbed “Monacogate” in the press has erupted.
On September 14, 2017, Le Monde published a journalistic investigation accusing Philippe Narmino, Director of Judicial Services of the Principality of Monaco, of corruption. The newspaper found out that Narmino and his spouse had received expensive gifts from Rybolovlev and stayed at his Swiss chalet in early 2015 – right at the beginning of the litigation between Rybolovlev and Bouvier. The journalists obtained evidence of Narmino’s corruption ties from text messages extracted from the personal phone of Tetiana Bersheda, a lawyer for Rybolovlev. It was Bersheda who has notified Criminal Police Chief Christophe Haget and his deputy of the arrival of the art dealer to Monaco – and Bouvier was arrested there. After reviewing Bersheda’s messages, Le Monde concluded that the Russian businessman had “unacceptable ties” not only with Narmino – but with other high-ranked Monaco judges, police functionaries, and politicians as well.
Philippe Narmino, ex-Minister of Justice of Monaco
A few hours after the Le Monde’s publication, Philippe Narmino had to resign. According to Agence France-Presse, on September 22, the official was detained, questioned, and released before the end of the day.
Concurrently, Bulgarian citizen Tania Rappo, an assistant to Bouvier, has filed a criminal complaint with the police. In February 2015, Rybolovlev has invited Rappo to a dinner where she confirmed that the art dealer had overcharged the prices. Bersheda has recorded their conversation on her phone and submitted the record to the police as a piece of evidence incriminating Bouvier. But the recording was made illegally – so, Rappo accused Rybolovlev and Bersheda of violating her privacy. After the submission of Bersheda’s phone to the Monaco law enforcement authorities, the judge decided to review not only the conversation with Rappo – but all the contents of the lawyer’s phone.
The Prosecution officials have reviewed all the records and found evidence of a conspiracy between Rybolovlev and the Monaco law enforcement authorities. “Informal” communications between the oligarch, Monaco criminal police, Minister of Justice, and secret services in relation to the ‘Bouvier case’ have been identified. It turned out that Rybolovlev had indeed presented expensive football tickets to Narmino and other Monaco officials and given them rides to ski resorts by a private helicopter. The Monaco Prosecutor’s Office launched an anti-corruption probe against unidentified suspects. A year later, the billionaire has been arrested based on the records found on Bersheda’s phone and indicating “the existence of a secret network affecting the local courts for the benefit of Rybolovlev”.
Rybolovlev's lawyers Hervé Temime and Thomas Giaccardi don’t deny that the Prosecutor’s Office has laid corruption charges against their client. Lawyer Tetiana Bersheda and the wife and son of ex-Minister Philippe Narmino have also been charged. However, according to the attorneys, the court has neither grounds to launch legal proceedings nor evidence to deliver a verdict of guilty. “We would like to emphasize that Mr. Rybolovlev is currently considered innocent and insist on scrupulous compliance with this principle and rights associated with it,” – the lawyers said. They have no doubt that the Russian billionaire is going to be fully acquitted. The facts used as the basis for his prosecution have already been disputed in the Monaco Court of Cassation as “derived from the cellphone of his lawyer”. Temime and Giaccardi also reminded that Rybolovlev has earlier contested in court all allegations brought against him by Yves Bouvier.
It is known that in the course of the interrogation, the Russian billionaire refused to answer some 600 questions.
It is logical to suppose that the story of the former Uralkali owner ends similarly with the high-profile arrest of Suleyman Kerimov, member of the Council of the Federation, suspected of purchasing deluxe real properties in the South of France at understated prices. A year ago, the French police have detained, together with the Russian Senator, several other persons on suspicion of tax fraud “committed by an organized group”. But in late June 2018, all the charges laid against Kerimov have been dropped. The ‘high-profile’ case overhyped by the global media has collapsed like a card tower.