Dmitry Rybolovlev, owner of AS Monaco, recently settled a string of court cases against art dealer Yves Bouvier, who he claimed had cheated him by over-charging for paintings and sculptures he acquired for him.

Next week Rybolovlev’s battle will continue in a Manhattan courtroom, as the Russian billionaire takes on the Sotheby’s auction house, which he claims knew of Bouvier’s modus operandi.

Sotheby’s has denied any wrongdoing, asserting it abided by industry best practices, as the New York Tines reports.

“At trial,” Marcus Asner, a lawyer for Sotheby’s, said in a statement, “the plaintiff will have to prove that Sotheby’s somehow knew that Bouvier was lying to Mr. Rybolovlev about what he, Bouvier, paid for the art when he bought it. But there’s zero evidence that Sotheby’s knew that Bouvier was lying.”

“This case is the granddaddy of them all when it comes to what do we do in the art market in terms of conflicting loyalties and transparency,” said Nicholas O’Donnell, an art market lawyer. “It’s the ultimate cautionary tale of people proceeding without people really having clear expectations of everybody’s role.”
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that one of the artworks involved is the “Salvator Mundi,” a depiction of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci that is the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.

Also rare is the prospect of an oligarch like Rybolovlev testifying — and being cross-examined — in a US courtroom, according to Bill McCausland, a retired FBI official who specialised in matters pertaining to Russia, focusing in large part on oligarchs

“It is rather unique,” said McCausland, now a managing director with FTI Consulting, “to come out from the shadows a little bit, to be a little more public.”

Experts say the jury trial may provide new guidelines for a more transparent art market.

“There is so much secrecy in the art world that buyers sometimes don’t know the amount of money being made by others in transactions,” said Leila A. Amineddoleh, an art and cultural heritage lawyer. “So this case will help to clarify the responsibilities and fiduciary duties owed to clients by dealers and auction houses.”


FILE PHOTO: Yves Bouvier