Sotheby’s Cleared of Art Fraud as Russian Billionaire Loses Lawsuit

Eric Gaillard
Eric Gaillard

A federal jury in New York City ruled in favor of Sotheby’s on Tuesday, rejecting fraud claims made by the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev that the auction house colluded with an art adviser to trick him into grossly overpaying for four pieces of art.

Rybolovlev had accused Sotheby’s of scheming with Yves Bouvier, who he claimed posed as an art adviser to negotiate art sales on his behalf but, in reality, had been secretly acting as an art dealer to sell him pieces at multi-million dollar markups.

It was the latest loss in court for Rybolovlev, who has spent years filing lawsuits in jurisdictions around the globe, hoping one would rule in his favor against Bouvier and those he alleges helped his foe.

In total, Rybolovlev has claimed for nearly a decade that Bouvier overcharged him by $1 billion dollars for 38 art works where Bouvier brokered the sale. He claimed that Sotheby’s role in the scheme was sometimes creating inflated valuations for artworks that concealed some of Bouvier’s alleged markups.

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Tuesday’s decision against Rybolovlev was delivered by a 10-person jury on the first day of deliberations. It came after nearly three weeks of testimony by execs by Sotheby’s executives and Rybolovlev himself, who reportedly grilled Bouvier repeatedly on the stand.

While Rybolovlev has claimed he was ripped off on nearly every piece of art he purchased through Bouvier, his New York trial centered on four pieces specifically, which included paintings by Gustav Klimt, Leonardo da Vinci, and René Magritte, as well as a sculpture by Amedeo Modigliani.

In a statement, a lawyer for Rybolovlev claimed to The New York Times that, despite the loss, they’d achieved their goal in filing the lawsuit in the first place—to “shed light “on the lack of transparency that plagues the art market.”

In a statement of its own, lawyers for Sotheby’s said bluntly, “Throughout the trial, there was a glaring lack of evidence presented by the plaintiff.”

Bouvier has long pleaded his innocence, saying he never used any tactics that differed from other art advisers.

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