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Freeport king fails in appeal against Monaco criminal charges

Yves Bouvier, a Singapore PR, will now be tried for fraud and complicity in money laundering

ART OF THE MATTER: Swiss businessman Bouvier is a Singapore permanent resident who is behind Le Freeport in Singapore.


THE Monaco courts have turned down Swiss businessman and "freeport king" Yves Bouvier's appeal to drop the charges against him - for fraud and complicity in money laundering.

Bouvier is a Singapore permanent resident who is behind Le Freeport in Singapore.

In the sensational high profile case of alleged art market fraud of close to one billion euros (S$1.53 billion), the charges arose from a complaint by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, owner of AS Monaco Football Club, via his family trust companies, Accent Delight International and Xitrans Finance, in January.

On Thursday, Monaco's appeals court rejected his appeal. Bouvier had filed his appeal in July, citing "procedural irregularities". He also questioned the "systematic bias" of investigators.

In a statement, Mr Rybolovlev's companies said that they're pleased that the case against Bouvier can now go ahead, leading up to a trial before the Monaco Court at a later date.

In Singapore, the companies have also filed a civil case against Bouvier, 51, for him to compensate them for his "secret profit" in selling 38 pieces of art. The 38 pieces comprise two pieces of furniture and 36 masters' paintings and sculptures, from 2003 to 2014, including one where ownership is still in dispute.

The total sale of the artworks is believed to be US$2 billion. Mr Rybolovlev estimates that he's been cheated of US$1 billion in fraudulent price mark-ups.

According to Bouvier's lawyers in Singapore, however, he has not been indicted to stand trial for any of these alleged offences in Monaco. It added that he has also fully cooperated with the investigations in Monaco, and since February 2015, has not been called back to Monaco for any further police interviews or questioning.

"The Monaco Court's latest decision also does not affect the question of jurisdiction, that is, whether the Monaco courts have the authority to hear the issues in the substantive dispute between the parties."

Meanwhile, the case in Monaco covers only three of these artworks, for which the money was remitted from Monaco bank accounts and therefore comes under the principality's jurisdiction.

In the criminal proceedings in Monaco, Bouvier has been indicted for fraud committed in 2013 and 2014, covering only the last three transactions of artworks - Leonardo da Vinci's Le Christ comme Salvator Mundi, Paul Gauguin's Otahi and Mark Rothko's No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red).

The charges for complicity in money laundering date from 2006 to February 2015, because they involve a Tania Rappo, a family friend of the Rybolovlevs.

She introduced the two magnates in 2003, and allegedly continued to receive commissions for transactions from Bouvier, unbeknown to Mr Rybolovlev.

Bouvier's company, Natural Le Coultre SA, is the largest operator in Geneva Freeport.

He was instrumental in setting up Le Freeport in Singapore in 2010, after coming to Singapore in 2009.

He is believed to own 22 companies in Singapore related to the art market. One of them is Art Heritage Singapore, the company managing the launch of museum Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris.

This international art case has gripped the art world as it could well expose mass fraud in the global art market, where masters are traded for millions of dollars, but no one knows for how much when it's not in an open auction.

It was the disclosure of a Modigliani that led to the fallout earlier this year. Mr Rybolovlev found out that Accent Delight had paid US$118 million for Modiglianis' Nu Couche au coussin Bleu but Bouvier had obtained it for US$93.5 million.

He then brought the case against Bouvier as he believed that the latter was acting as his agent, rather than a dealer which would justify the near US$25 million mark-up.

Bouvier, on the other hand, maintains his innocence and denies any wrongdoing in the sale of art pieces to Mr Rybolovlev, which he undertakes in his capacity as an independent art dealer.