Businessman held for 'defrauding' billionaire football club owner

MONACO (AFP) - A prominent Swiss businessman and two other people have been detained in Monaco on suspicion of defrauding Russian oligarch and football club owner Dmitry Rybolovlev.

Art businessman Yves Bouvier is suspected of having sold Rybolovlev dozens of paintings by Picasso, Modigliani, Gauguin and other masters for inflated prices or with false documents, local prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dreno said.

He did not reveal the amount of the alleged fraud.

Bouvier is the head of Natural Le Coultre, a family business that stores, packs and ships works of art and other valuables.

Rybolovlev, meanwhile, moved to Monaco in 2011, where he bought a controlling stake in AS Monaco – a prestigious football club that had then been relegated to the second division, and which he whipped back into shape.

He is considered the world’s 160th wealthiest person according to Forbes, with a fortune estimated at US$8.5 billion (S$11.5 billion).

“After having worked with Mr Bouvier for more than 10 years, the Rybolovlev family received information on possible fraud and manipulation of art market prices by Mr Bouvier and his accomplices,” the oligarch’s lawyer Tetiana Bersheda said in a statement.

The prosecutor said the two other people taken into custody – a couple living in Monaco – were suspected of having acted as go-betweens for the family in the sale of paintings, but refused to comment further on the probe.

Rybolovlev made headlines last year when a Swiss court awarded his ex-wife the equivalent of half of his fortune in their divorce.

The Russian oligarch has an estate in the southern French resort of Saint Tropez, owns the Greek island of Skorpios, which he bought from the Onassis dynasty, a villa in Miami that previously belonged to business magnate Donald Trump, and one in Hawaii that was purchased from Hollywood star Will Smith.