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Russian Billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev Accuses Sotheby’s Of Cheating Him Of Tens Of Millions In Court Testimony

Like many billionaires before him, Dmitry Rybolovlev turned to the hobby of art collecting both as a pastime and a good investment for the future. Unlike most billionaire art collectors, he wasn’t satisfied with his experience in the field, filing suit against auction house Sotheby’s and accusing them of collaborating with Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier in cheating him out of millions.

Bouvier is an infamous art world figure who’s been accused of various acts of fraud and other schemes, and in December of last year he settled a long legal battle with Rybolovlev on undisclosed terms. Bouvier and his attorneys have rejected all accusations of wrongdoing, however, and released a recent press statement pointing out that charges against the art dealer have been dropped or otherwise discontinued in nine separate legal cases all over the world. But Rybolovlev is continuing the fight against Sotheby’s for what he says was active collusion in the fraud as well.

Through an interpreter, Rybolovlev talked about how he allegedly fell victim to a scheme that is made possible by an “art market that needs to be more transparent.” He also said that the situation was facilitated by his absolute trust in Bouvier, which he now says was misplaced:

“So when you trust people, and I’m not a person who trusts easily, but when a person is like a member of your family. There is a point in time and that you start to completely and utterly trust a person.”

Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Rybolovlev’s suit accuses Sotheby’s and Bouvier of colluding on the purchase of big-ticket works of art from the auction house and selling them to Rybolovlev for inflated prices. Between the years 2002 and 2014, Rybolovlev spent some $2 billion on his art collection, and now says he was ripped off of more than $160 million during that time. He went on:

“Because when the largest company in this industry with such a profound reputation does these actions, it makes it incredibly difficult for clients like me that have experience in business to know what’s going on.”

Rybolovlev was also asked in court why he was pursuing the suit against Sotheby’s after settling with Bouvier. His answer:

“So it’s not an issue of money. Well, not only of money. It’s important for the art market to be more transparent. Because … when the largest company in this industry is involved in actions of this sort, you know, clients don’t stand a chance.”

The suit focuses on four extremely valuable paintings that were purchased from Sotheby’s by Bouvier and then sold to Rybolovlev in a speedy time frame, usually within a day. The highlight is “Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci, purchased at auction for $83 million and sold the next day to Rybolovlev for more than $127 million. Bouvier says he was acting within his rights as an art dealer, while Rybolovlev claims that they had agreed previously to a two percent commission for the art dealer and that any profit on top of that is fraudulent. The case is ongoing.

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