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Singapore court orders asset freeze on "Freeport King"

[SINGAPORE] A Singapore court has ordered a freeze on the assets of a Swiss businessman who operates high-security warehouses and who has been sued by two companies linked to a Russian billionaire for manipulating prices of art and failing to deliver a painting.

Yves Bouvier is the president of Natural le Coultre which calls itself one of the biggest specialists globally for the storage, packing and shipping of art works and valuable items.

He is also the majority owner in the Singapore Freeport and Luxembourg Freeport, warehouses where precious metals, art works, expensive wines and other valuables are stored, earning him the nickname "Freeport King".

Singapore's High Court has put a freeze on his assets globally, forbidding him from removing any assets of up to the value of US$500 million from Singapore, or disposing any assets whether or not they are in Singapore, according to court papers seen by Reuters on Friday.

Media reported Mr Bouvier was arrested in Monaco last month on suspicion of fraud.

Mr Bouvier was not available for comment on Friday. Neither his lawyer nor Singapore Freeport immediately responded to Reuters requests for comment.

Two entities have made claims against Mr Bouvier - Accent Delight International Ltd and Xitrans Finance Ltd - and they are connected to the family trust of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, said Tetiana Bersheda, a lawyer for the trust.

According to Forbes magazine, Mr Rybolovlev made his fortunes in the fertiliser business and is the 14th richest man in Russia. He also owns AS Monaco soccer club.

"We are particularly happy to be the first ones in time to obtain the freezing injunction against Mr Bouvier in the potential race with other victims of the alleged fraud and thus guarantee the priority over the assets seized to our clients," Ms Bersheda told Reuters in an email message. "We anticipate similar measures to be taken by courts in other jurisdictions shortly."

The court also ordered Bouvier to deliver a painting by Mark Rothko and to disclose all copies of invoices, or sales contracts entered into by third-party sellers of 37 pieces of art, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco, Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet, which the plaintiffs bought through Bouvier.

The asset freeze will remain in force until a trial or further order, the court said in its notice the order dated March 12.