Swiss art dealer seeks to have assets unfrozen

Prominent Swiss businessman and art dealer Yves Bouvier, who is a Singapore permanent resident, is under investigation in Monaco for fraud and money laundering.
Prominent Swiss businessman and art dealer Yves Bouvier, who is a Singapore permanent resident, is under investigation in Monaco for fraud and money laundering.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Prominent Swiss businessman and art dealer Yves Bouvier, who is under investigation in Monaco for fraud and money laundering, yesterday appealed to Singapore's highest court to unfreeze his assets.

Mr Bouvier, a Singapore permanent resident, has been accused by Russian billionaire and art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev of inflating the prices of works by master artists such as Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh.

Mr Bouvier, 51, owns a company that ships and stores art for the wealthy, and has majority stakes in freeports - warehouses for the rich to store art and other valuables - including one in Singapore.

Mr Rybolovlev, 48, made his money from fertiliser and is the majority owner of football club AS Monaco.

In March, two companies connected to Mr Rybolovlev obtained a Mareva injunction against Mr Bouvier, forbidding him from removing any assets up to the value of US$500 million (S$675 million) from Singapore.

A similar injunction was obtained against Ms Tania Rappo, a friend of the Rybolovlev family who received commissions from Mr Bouvier from the sale of artworks to the Russian tycoon.

Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, representing Mr Bouvier, asked the Court of Appeal to lift the injunction. He argued that there is no risk of Mr Bouvier dissipating his assets as the Swiss has business ventures around the world. And as a known figure, it would cause him more damage to dissipate his assets.

He questioned Mr Rybolovlev's motivation in seeking the injunction, pointing out that reports were in the international media within hours of the order being made.

Mr Bouvier's business ground to a halt as a result and he could not pay Customs and excise duties, he said.

Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan, representing Ms Rappo, said Mr Bouvier paid her to reward her for endorsing him in front of Mr Rybolovlev. He said she was just a conduit and likened her to "grass that is damaged when two elephants fight".

Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo, representing Mr Rybolovlev, accused Mr Bouvier of scamming his client - who relied on him to advise him on the value of artwork - for 12 years.

He showed the judges a table - without openly revealing the figures - of the prices at which Mr Bouvier bought the works from others and the inflated prices at which he sold them to Mr Rybolovlev.

The hearing continues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2015, with the headline 'Swiss art dealer seeks to have assets unfrozen'. Print Edition | Subscribe