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Ex-Monaco justice minister held in influence-peddling inquiry

Published on September 22, 2017

The former justice minister of Monaco was detained Friday by police looking into his relations with a Russian billionaire embroiled in a long-running fraud dispute with a Swiss art dealer.

Philippe Narmino was brought in for questioning after prosecutors opened an inquiry into suspected influence peddling, a source close to the case said.

Narmino quit his post earlier this month after French daily Le Monde detailed his ties with Dmitry Rybolovlev, owner of the AS Monaco football club.

The paper noted that Narmino and his wife were treated with gifts and expensive dinners, and were guests at Rybolovlev’s Swiss chalet in early 2015, just as the fraud dispute erupted between Rybolovlev and Swiss dealer Yves Bouvier.

Bouvier was arrested in Monaco in February 2015, and French news site Mediapart in August published extracts of telephone calls between Rybolovlev’s lawyer and Monaco police officials, suggesting that he may have tipped off the police to Bouvier’s arrival in the principality.

“The accusations against me and the repeated attacks sustained by the judiciary no longer allow me to properly assure leadership,” Narmino said in announcing his resignation.

Rybolovlev had once been one of Bouvier’s biggest clients, buying a total of 37 masterpieces worth two billion euros ($2.4 billion) over a decade.

But their relationship collapsed after Rybolovlev claimed he had been hugely overcharged.

Bouvier is also one of the leading organisers of offshore storage facilities for wealthy collectors, shuttling works between high-tech storage facilities in low-tax countries such as Switzerland, Luxembourg and Singapore.

Rybolovlev, who made his fortune in the fertiliser business after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has an art collection to rival major museums, featuring works by artists like Van Gogh, Monet, Rodin, Matisse and da Vinci.