In the contentious trial against auction house Sotheby’s, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev took the stand for the first time, alleging complicity in a plan to defraud him. The trial, now concluding its first week, centers on whether Sotheby’s played a role in assisting Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier in defrauding Rybolovlev in multi-million dollar art deals.
Key Details from Rybolovlev’s Testimony:
- Rybolovlev, in his testimony, chronicled his intricate business relationship and friendship with Bouvier, involving around 38 deals of blue-chip art totaling roughly $2 billion from 2002 to 2014.
- He claims to have discovered in 2014 that Bouvier defrauded him by around $1 billion, concealing the fact that he was both the seller and broker in the transactions.
- The trial scrutinizes the role of a senior private-sale specialist at Sotheby’s, Samuel Valette, who is accused of aiding Bouvier in executing the fraud. Valette is expected to testify next week.
- The examination of Rybolovlev lifted the curtain on his opulent lifestyle and highlighted his significant art acquisitions, including the Leonardo da Vinci Salvator Mundi for $127.5 million and Gustave Klimt’s Water Serpents (1907) for $186 million.
Complexities and Trivialities in the Trial:
- The questioning delved into minute details, such as the use of formal language in emails, attire at art viewings, and even whether Bouvier attended one of Rybolovlev’s birthday parties.
- Testimony included discussions about the formalities of the correspondence, including the use of “tu” or “vous” forms in French emails between Bouvier and Valette.
- The trial aims to unravel the opaque structure of the art deals, where Bouvier allegedly both brokered and secretly participated in transactions.
Sotheby’s Role and Legal Dynamics:
- Sotheby’s is accused of being at least partially complicit in Bouvier’s fraudulent scheme, with Samuel Valette singled out for “aiding and abetting” Bouvier.
- The defense is expected to challenge Rybolovlev’s accounts, especially his interactions with Bouvier and Valette.
- Swirling questions about whether Rybolovlev would appear in the U.S. were put to rest when he showed up in court, actively participating in the proceedings.
Rybolovlev’s Past Transactions and Legal Settlement:
- Rybolovlev’s past real estate dealings, including a transaction involving former President Donald Trump, were referenced during the trial but are not part of the Sotheby’s lawsuit.
- The trial unfolds against the backdrop of a recent legal settlement between Rybolovlev and Bouvier, concluding their years-long disputes in several European jurisdictions.