Victim of arts. Last warning for Dmitry Rybolovlev in Monaco 

 Victim of arts. Last warning for Dmitry Rybolovlev in Monaco
Only the achievements of AS Monaco FC save art collector Rybolovlev from deportation from Monaco Photo: The CrimeRussia

Reports that Dmitry Rybolovlev was declared persona non grata in Monaco have been refuted. However, the conflict is evident. The passion for fine arts, combined with ungraceful methods of conflict resolution, have failed the billionaire.

Rush to buy paintings

In the last ten years, Dmitry Rybolovlev has drastically changed his life. The oligarch got rid of all his Russian assets (including Uralkali that had caused a technogenic catastrophe), divorced, and started settling into more comfortable countries. He has relocated the family to Switzerland long ago, purchased a share in Bank of Cyprus together with the citizenship of the island state, and started collecting real estate. Greek islands once owned by Aristotle Onassis, villas of Donald Trump and Will Smith in the U.S., a castle in Saint-Tropez – these are just a few examples of his properties. Monaco became the primary place of residence for the oligarch. Rybolovlev has purchased there Villa Roma, an apartment in Belle Époque, and the national football club of the same name. Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club has been acquired in 2011. 

Albert II, Prince of Monaco, is a great fan of AS Monaco FC – this explains the sudden passion of Rybolovlev for football. Investments of the oligarchs have led the team to sports wins – and Rybolovlev became a good friend of the Prince of Monaco. But the idyll has ended abruptly. In late September 2017, the French press has named Dmitry Rybolovlev a persona non grata in Monaco. Later the Principality of Monaco has officially refuted this information. But for Rybolovlev, this may be the last warning before the real disgrace. The “Russian billionaire” (this is how the Western press refer to Rybolovlev) has brought to Monaco the traditions of Russian oligarchs. The Monaco authorities had appreciated the real estate acquisitions of Rybolovlev but won’t forgive him an attempt to buy the justice system of the principality.

Дмитрий Рыболовлев и князь Монако Альберт II

Dmitry Rybolovlev and Albert II, Prince of Monaco

First, Dmitry Rybolovlev has surprised Monaco with his passion for luxury. Villas and yachts are not sufficient to distinguish a person in the country of dollar billionaires – something special is needed for this. Collection of paintings became the distinct feature of Rybolovlev. In fact, all the people from the Forbes list collect arts – but the oligarch has astonished the public with his grand scale by purchasing all the masterpieces he could lay hands on. It must be admitted that the former Uralkali owner has pretty long arms.

In the period of 2002–2014, Dmitry Rybolovlev has amassed a gallery comparable with the best world museums. His collection includes works of Monet, van Gogh, Matisse, and da Vinci. In fact, the acquisition of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi painting became the beginning of the conflict that has nearly resulted in deportation of Rybolovlev from Monaco. The oligarch suddenly became unhappy with the actions of his perpetual art dealer Yves Bouvier.

Bouvier is well-known in the narrow circle of private art collectors. He has brokered the majority of large-scale art deals, including sales of sculptures by Modigliani, masterpieces of da Vinci, etc. In the last fifteen years, Bouvier was mostly focused on his work with Rybolovlev – a client ready and willing to buy pieces of art regardless of their cost. Dmitry Rybolovlev had a different view on his relations with Bouvier.

Monaco is different

In 2014, Rybolovlev became aware that The New York Times had estimated the value of da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi recently purchased by him at $70–75 million. The oligarch has immediately calculated the profit of Bouvier – and was displeased by the result. The collector has paid $127 million for the masterpiece. Then the cultural pattern of Russian ‘new rich’ has come into effect. Rybolovlev, who has made his initial capital in the Urals, was not inclined to hold extensive negotiations or make mutual concessions.

At some point, the oligarch was even accused in Russia of masterminding the murder of his business partner committed by a group of persons by previous concert. He was the only suspect acquitted in that criminal case – other defendants have been sentenced to prison terms. Apparently, Rybolovlev had completely trusted the Monaco justice system and relied on its law enforcement authorities. On February 25, 2015, Yves Bouvier has arrived to the oligarch’s penthouse apartment in Belle Époque to meet with Rybolovlev – but instead encountered the Monaco police. 

The art dealer was arrested largely because of a false statement made by HSBC bank: allegedly, Yves Bouvier and his assistant Tania Rappo, who had mostly acted as a translator for Rybolovlev, had joint access to Bouvier’s accounts Rybolovlev was transferring funds to – i.e. were in cahoots. A few days later, HSBC has withdrawn the false statement citing an error, and Bouvier was released on a €10 million bail. He estimates his financial and reputational losses sustained due to the allegations brought by Rybolovlev at several billion euros. The number of charges grows like a rolling snowball. Initially, Rybolovlev had accused Bouvier of overpricing and claimed that he never considered the art dealer a vendor of paintings – but just an agent working for the 2% commission. Then the story has taken a detective twist – it turned out that two Picasso watercolors purchased by Rybolovlev were stolen from painter’s stepdaughter Catherine Hutin-Blay. Although Hutin-Blay had blamed art dealer Olivier Thomas for that, Rybolovlev – the new owner of the paintings – has made every effort to cast an imputation on Bouvier as well. The Singapore’s top courtexamining the lawsuit filed by Rybolovlev against Bouvier has ruled that “it is at least doubtful, even if not wholly incredible, that the respondents genuinely believed that the remuneration for Mr. Bouvier’s services was limited to the 2% fee”.

Ив Бувье

Yves Bouvier

The events in Monaco have also taken an unexpected twist. This summer, the court of the principality has inquired how could the Monaco police detain the art dealer so quickly and efficiently. Dmitry Rybolovlev failed to explain the presence of operatives at the right time and place. Later the phone of Tetiana Bersheda, an attorney for Rybolovlev, storing all the information sought by the court has been seized.

It turned out that not only had the Russian oligarch personally turned Bouvier in, but also literally tamed Philippe Narmino, Head of the Ministry of Justice. A few months prior to the arrest of Bouvier, the Narmino family had a great dinner in the Rybolovlev’s apartment and later vacationed in his Swiss chalet. The Russian traditions of dealing with the law and ministers were not welcomed in Monaco. Narmino has hastily resigned – apparently, this would indemnify him from criminal prosecution. Then the rumors started circulating that Rybolovlev may be declared persona non grata. Only the achievements of AS Monaco FC that has won the French title under the rule of Rybolovlev and passion of Prince Albert for football save the oligarch from deportation.

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