Russian tycoon Rybolovlev ‘detained’ in Monaco on corruption charges
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. The detention is linked to an investigation into “corruption” and “influence peddling” by Monaco authorities, it is said.
The arrest of the 51-year-old took place hours before his football team, AS Monaco, took to the field in the Champions League at the Stade Louis II.
Reacting to the report, Rybolovlev’s lawyers, Herve Temime and Thomas Giaccardi, said that they “regret the breach of confidentiality of the inquiry that this information represents.” “We request that the presumption of innocence in relation to Mr Rybolovlev is strictly respected.”
In September 2017, Philippe Narmino, the justice minister of the principality, resigned his post after French media leaked text messages suggesting his complicity with Rybolovlev in a billion-dollar art fraud case. The Urals-born billionaire allegedly influenced Narmino to pursue and arrest Yves Bouvier, a Swiss art dealer whom Rybolovlev accuses of defrauding him.
Thick as thieves
The detention is the latest dramatic chapter in a half-decade marked by spectacular turns of fortune for the Russian, making 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.
This is not the first time he has been detained. Rybolovlev also spent a year in jail in Russia on charges of murdering a business rival in the mid-1990s, before being acquitted due to an 11th-hour confession from another man.
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 two-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 in 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 indicate 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 going on, Rybolovlev started court proceedings against his elusive target in Hong Kong and Singapore, where they were rejected, and the US, where he also sued auctioneer Sotheby’s, claiming they were fully aware of Bouvier’s schemes.
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 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 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 investment in young players means 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, there were claims in the media this week that the club attempted to circumvent Financial Fair Play regulations through a fake contract with a marketing agency. AS Monaco has denied the accusations. 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.
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