Singapore's highest court unfreezes assets of Swiss art dealer

24th August 2015, Comments 0 comments

Singapore's highest court has unfrozen the assets worth millions of dollars of a Swiss businessman and art dealer sued by a Russian billionaire for fraud.

The Court of Appeal, in a ruling dated August 21, lifted a worldwide freeze order -- known as the Mareva injunction -- imposed earlier this year by the Singapore High Court on the assets of Yves Bouvier, a permanent resident in the city-state.

The Court of Appeal said there was no risk of Bouvier "dissipating" his assets after the injunction was removed. It described the freeze order as an "abuse of the court's process".

Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, owner of the AS Monaco Football Club, had sued Bouvier in January in Monaco for allegedly fraudulently inflating the price of 38 artworks while acting as his agent, with the mark-up reaching a total of $1.0 billion.

In March Rybolovlev filed a civil suit in Singapore. He obtained the injunction from the High Court to prevent Bouvier and his corporate vehicle MEI Invest from "disposing or dealing with any of their assets in Singapore or worldwide" of sums up to $500 million.

The freeze order also affected a third person involved in the dispute.

Bouvier has rejected the allegations, saying he was not Rybolovlev's agent.

He said he sold the artworks, including paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh, to the billionaire as an independent seller.

Bouvier operates vaults in Singapore and Luxembourg where wealthy clients can store their art and other valuables.

"The central question in these appeals is whether it has been sufficiently shown that there is a real risk that appellants will dissipate their assets to frustrate the enforcement of an anticipated judgement of the court," Court of Appeal Justice Sundaresh Menon said in an 89-page ruling.

"In our judgement, the respondents have failed to establish that risk."

The judge also said that "the injunction was not obtained by the respondents to prevent the enforcement of an anticipated judgement from being frustrated".

"Instead, we are satisfied that it was deployed as an instrument of oppression to inflict commercial prejudice on Mr Bouvier," the judge added.

The judge noted that in his dealings with Rybolovlev, Bouvier "made no attempt to conceal his identity or mask his connection with the transactions through which the 38 artworks were acquired by the respondents. He always dealt in person, acting through MEI Invest."

Bouvier said in a statement he was "delighted" by the decision.

"I am happy that my position has been vindicated," he said.


© 2015 AFP

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