An epic international legal drama that has pitted a Russian billionaire against a Swiss art dealer took a new turn on Tuesday after Dmitry Rybolovlev slapped Sotheby’s auction house with a $380 million lawsuit in New York.
Rybolovlev, who sold two Russian fertiliser producers for almost $7.5 billion in 2010 and 2011, has been pursuing Yves Bouvier around the globe for several years, claiming the art dealer owes him more than $1 billion. Rybolovlev accused Bouvier of overcharging him on 38 artworks that he purchased for $2 billion over more than a decade.
Rybolovlev’s companies sued Sotheby’s last Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, alleging that the auction house “materially assisted the largest art fraud in history.”
Rybolovlev says Bouvier lied to him about how much it cost to purchase paintings and pocketed the difference. “Sotheby’s was the willing auction house that knowingly and intentionally made the fraud possible” because it knew how much Bouvier paid the sellers, according to the complaint.
Of the 38 works Rybolovlev bought from Bouvier, Sotheby’s had a hand in the sale of almost one-third of them to Bouvier, according to the complaint.
Among the transactions that Sotheby’s was involved in, according to the new lawsuit, were a nude by Amedeo Modigliani bought by Rybolovlev for $118 million in 2011; Gustav Klimt’s “Wasserschlangen II” bought for $183.8 million in 2012; and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” bought for $127.5 million in 2013.