Russian billionaire charged in Monaco corruption probe
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Russian billionaire charged in Monaco corruption probe

Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev was charged by Monaco prosecutors in relation to a probe into corruption and influence peddling in his long-running dispute with Geneva art dealer Yves Bouvier.

Dmitry Rybolovlev with Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Dmitry Rybolovlev with Prince Albert II of Monaco.Credit:AP

Rybolovlev and three others were charged Wednesday, prosecutor Sylvie Petit-Lelair said by telephone, adding that she couldn't confirm the exact charges against them. Rybolovlev and the others were released after being detained overnight for questioning, subject to security constraints on their movement, Petit-Leclair said.

Herve Temime, a lawyer for Rybolovlev, said in a statement that "we do insist on the fact that at this stage Mr. Rybolovlev is presumed innocent, and that this presumption and the rights attached to it should be strictly respected."

On Tuesday, Temime and another lawyer, Thomas Giaccardi, said their client was interrogated based on information retrieved from the phone of a third representative of Rybolovlev, something that's the subject of an appeal in Monaco. The pair also said they plan to lodge a complaint in relation to press leaks of his interrogation session.

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The charges represent the latest twist in a long-running dispute between the Russian and Bouvier. Rybolovlev, who made an $US11 billion ($15.2 billion) fortune selling two Russian fertiliser companies, alleges that Bouvier overcharged him by as much as $US1 billion for more than $US2 billion of work by artists including Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin and Gustav Klimt. Bouvier maintains he was never the Russian's broker and was merely catering to a good customer willing to pay top dollar to secure a prestigious art collection.

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Rybolovlev's questioning represents a U-turn by Monaco prosecutors. Police in the tiny Mediterranean principality arrested Bouvier in the entrance to Rybolovlev's Monaco mansion in February 2015 after Rybolovlev had filed a criminal complaint.

Philippe Narmino, Monaco's justice minister, took early retirement in September 2017 after friendly text messages from early 2015 with Rybolovlev's lawyer Tetiana Bersheda, Narmino and other Monaco officials were published. The other three charged along with Rybolovlev were Bersheda, Narmino's wife Christine and their son Antoine.

The presumption of innocence remains for all four, Petit-Leclair said. Bersheda didn't respond to texts and voicemail messages requesting comment.

Among the messages released were some about a visit Narmino made to Rybolovlev's Gstaad ski chalet five days before Bouvier's arrest. Others discussed Bouvier's imminent trip to Monaco, according to a criminal complaint filed by Bouvier's Swiss lawyer, alleging the improper contact violated Swiss bribery law.

The billionaire's residence in Monaco, La Belle Epoque, was searched Tuesday morning, according to Le Monde.

The dispute between the men has been fought in Monaco, Singapore and Switzerland. It last month expanded to the U.S., where Rybolovlev sued Sotheby's for $US380 million, claiming the auction house was complicit in the alleged fraud. Sotheby's denies the allegations.

Bloomberg

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