Oligarch’s Aide Tells Court How Sotheby’s Expertise Had Role in Fraud

An adviser to a Russian billionaire asserted in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday that he and his boss had been tricked by a Swiss art dealer into wildly overpaying for works of art and that a Sotheby’s expert’s opinions played a role in persuading them to pay the inflated prices.

“It was pretty important because Sotheby’s was the expert in all things related to art,” the representative, Mikhail Sazonov, testified in federal court in Manhattan in the case brought against Sotheby’s by Dmitry Rybolovlev, the oligarch and art collector.

Rybolovlev has accused Sotheby’s of helping the art dealer, Yves Bouvier, who bought artworks himself and resold them to Rybolovlev at markups worth tens of millions of dollars.

Bouvier, who has denied any wrongdoing, has said he was free to charge what he wanted as an art dealer. But Rybolovlev has said that Bouvier never revealed he had quietly bought the paintings himself, and instead posed as an art adviser who was helping to negotiate with fictitious sellers and, beyond that, charging two percent commission for his advice.

Bouvier purchased many of the artworks he later sold to Rybolovlev through Sotheby’s. In opening statements on Monday, lawyers for Rybolovlev focused on the role played in some of the transactions by Samuel Valette, a Sotheby’s expert.

“Together, Valette and Sotheby’s helped plunder many millions of dollars from the plaintiff,” said Daniel J. Kornstein, a lawyer for Rybolovlev. The evidence showed, he said, that “Sotheby’s was in on it.”

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