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Russian tycoon arrested for corrupting Monaco officials in billion-dollar art case - reports

Fertilizer and football magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev has been detained for using money and favors to secure backing from Monaco officials in his bitter high-stakes battle against his former art dealer.

Police searched the $300 million Cote d’Azur penthouse that belongs to Rybolovlev on Tuesday morning, according to Le Monde. The businessman, whose fortune is estimated at $6.8 billion by Forbes, was then taken into custody and charged with corruption and influence peddling.

As the 51-year-old remained behind bars, his football team AS Monaco took to the field in the Champions League at the Stade Louis II, several hundred meters away.

Last September, Philippe Narmino, the justice minister of the principality, resigned his post in connection with the case. The net had been closing on the Urals-born billionaire in recent months, as officials declared that he was under investigation for exploiting his “shadowy” network of influence to persuade officials to lure and arrest Yves Bouvier, a Swiss art dealer whom Rybolovlev accuses of defrauding him.

Thick as thieves The arrest is the latest dramatic chapter in a half-decade marked by Hollywood-spectacular turns of fortune for the Russian that have repeatedly made the headlines in the business, art, sports and politics sections of newspapers worldwide.

A cardiologist by training, Rybolovlev made the bulk of his capital when he was able to cheaply acquire the majority of Uralkali, a major potash concern, following its post-Soviet privatization, and develop it into a multi-billion dollar company in subsequent years. Notably, this is not his first time in detention, as Rybolovlev also spent a year in Russian jail on charges of murdering a business rival in the mid-1990s, before being acquitted due to an eleventh-hour confession from another man.

But his current predicament began when he became the client of Bouvier, art dealer to the super-rich, in 2003. Over the next decade, the offshore expert linked with multiple separate money laundering and fraud allegations helped the Russian acquire one of the world’s foremost private art collections, spanning from the Renaissance masters to Picasso and Mark Rothko.

The relationship went sour in 2013, when Rybolovlev claimed that he discovered Bouvier’s “betrayal.” The Russian says that instead of taking the art dealer’s 2 percent cut, Bouvier had been acting as a secret middleman – discreetly buying artworks on the cheap, and then selling them to the tycoon with a considerable mark-up, while pretending they were still owned by someone else. Rybolovlev says that between $500 million and $1 billion was siphoned off in several dozen deals, and stashed away in untraceable offshore accounts.

It is at this point that the Russian, who had settled in Monaco and bought its local football club before pumping hundreds of millions of euros to return it to European prominence, decided to leverage his ties with local officials. Text messages found on Narmino’s phone suggested that Rybolovlev offered him and others football tickets, a ski trip in a private helicopter, and other perks as he plotted how to bring down Bouvier.

Eventually, Bouvier was charged with money laundering and fraud by the principality, where he had kept some of his assets. With that battle still ongoing, Rybolovlev started court proceedings against his elusive target in Hong Kong and Singapore, where they have been rejected, and the US, where he has also sued auctioneer Sotheby’s, claiming they were fully aware of Bouvier’s schemes.

Billion-dollar roller-coaster Meanwhile, one of the paintings bought through the partnership – a disputed Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, which the dealer bought for $80 million and sold to the Russian for $127 million – became the most expensive artwork in history, when it sold for $450 million a year ago.

Rybolovlev also made the news when he was subject to the biggest-ever divorce settlement, when a Swiss court ordered him to pay $4.8 billion to his ex-wife, whom he met before he had earned his first million. Subsequent legal proceedings trimmed the payout, but he is still thought to have settled for hundreds of millions of dollars with the mother of his two children.

The Russian is also entangled in the Donald Trump-Russia insinuations, because he bought a Palm Beach property from the current US president for $95 million in 2008, more than twice the price the New York real-estate mogul had paid for it four years prior. What seemed like a steep deal may turn out to be profitable, as the Russian has divided up the property and sold two-thirds of it for $71 million.

His ownership of AS Monaco is similarly hard to evaluate. Initially it was regarded as a vanity project, but shrewd investments in young players mean that the club has received more money in transfer fees than any other in the world during his tenure, and made a €289 million profit in the summer of 2017 alone.

However, revelations in the media this week claimed that the club attempted to circumvent Financial Fair Play regulations through a fake contract with a marketing agency, a claim Rybolovlev has denied. Monaco currently remains near the bottom of the Ligue 1 table, and lost 4-0 on Tuesday night. Judging by recent history, this means that the mercurial Rybolovlev is due for another change of luck.

More photos:

Rybolovlev leaves Monaco court following another hearing over his art dispute with Yves Bouvier last month. 

Salvator Mundi being auctioned off. 

The Palm Beach property Rybolovlev bought from Trump, and demolished. © YOUTUBE

Source: AFP

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