Russian oligarch sues Sotheby’s after he was ‘overcharged by $1 billion’

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By Dan Sears

A Russian oligarch said to be worth more than $6 billion is taking Sotheby’s to court after claiming the famed auction house helped his art dealer dupe him into buying more than a dozen rare works of art for $1 billion more than what they were actually worth.

Dmitry Rybolovlev, who made his wealth as head of Russian fertilizer producer Uralkali, alleged in court documents that he was defrauded by Yves Bouvier, an art dealer who helped him buy 38 artworks for about $2 billion over 12 years.

Between 2002 and 2014, Bouvier helped the Russian businessman amass an art collection that included classic pieces such as a depiction of Christ attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, and works by Gustav Klimt, Rene Magritte and Amedeo Modigliani.

But the relationship ended when Rybolovlev heard from an art adviser who represented a previous owner of a Modigliani painting that he overpaid for the work by millions of dollars.

Bouvier allegedly passed himself off to Rybolovlev as a go-between who would facilitate the sale between the oligarch and the owner of the sculpture — when in reality Bouvier was the owner who sold the piece at an inflated price, it was alleged in the lawsuit.

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Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian oligarch said to be worth billions, is suing Sotheby’s auction house. AFP via Getty Images

In 2013, Rybolovlev bought Leonardo da Vinci’s “Christ as Salvator Mundi” for $127.5 million at the insistence of Bouvier, who pocketed a 1% commission, according to court papers.

Rybolovlev alleged that Bouvier bought the artwork for $83 million and marked up the price.

The da Vinci piece is the most expensive painting ever sold at auction. In 2017, Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah Al Saud paid $450 million for it at an auction held by Christie’s in Manhattan.

Rybolovlev also alleged in the lawsuit that in 2013 he paid Bouvier $83 million for “Tête,” a sculpture by Amedeo Modigliani — even though Bouvier paid half that sum for the statue just months earlier.

Sotheby’s is accused of facilitating fraudulent sales of expensive pieces of art. It has denied the allegation. Christopher Sadowski

Two years prior, Bouvier was tasked to acquire Modigliani’s famous painting “Nu Couché au Coussin Bleu” on Rybolovlev’s behalf, according to the lawsuit.

The oligarch alleged that Bouvier paid $95 million for the painting and then turned around and sold it to him for $118 million, according to the complaint.

Bouvier is then alleged to have paid a $5 million kickback to Tania Rappo, the godmother of one of Rybolovlev’s daughters who was working in tandem with the Swiss art dealer to acquire pieces for the Russian businessman, without him ever knowing about it.

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In all, Bouvier is alleged to have covertly marked up the prices of 15 works of art by an aggregate value of more than $1 billion in his dealings with Rybolovlev.

Rybolovlev claims that he paid double the fair market price for “Tête,” a sculpture by Amedeo Modigliani. AFP via Getty Images

The lawsuit that he filed against Sotheby’s is scheduled to go to federal trial in Manhattan next week

“The trial will show that Sotheby’s strictly adhered to all of its legal requirements and industry best practices in connection with all the art transactions at issue in the case,” Marcus Asner, an attorney for Sotheby’s, told The Post.

“A basic flaw in plaintiff’s case is that Sotheby’s simply knew nothing about Bouvier’s alleged lies to Mr. Rybolovlev or his alleged scheme to defraud Mr. Rybolovlev or anyone else.”

Bouvier is not named in the lawsuit as a defendant. He has denied the allegations against him. The Post has sought comment from attorneys for Bouvier.

Yves Bouvier, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, is accused of defrauding the Russian oligarch. Sony Pictures

Rybolovlev, who owns an oceanfront Florida property that was once home to Donald Trump, has already sued Bouvier in several European and Asian jurisdictions. Those disputes ended in a settlement that was reached last year.

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Despite the US Treasury Department’s claim that he is an oligarch who enjoys “closeness to the Russian regime,” he has thus far avoided US sanctions which were imposed following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Rybolovlev made the allegations in a lawsuit filed last year against Sotheby’s auction house, which is being accused of facilitating the fraudulent sales.

Sotheby’s is being accused in the lawsuit of knowingly advancing the fraud on the art works that it handled — an allegation that the auction house has denied.

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