Monaco (AFP)

For nearly five years, the affair of the paintings of the boss of AS Monaco Dmitri Rybolovlev, including a new judicial episode must be decided on December 12, poisoned Monaco and floated with sulphurous suspicions of influence of the Russian billionaire on the Rock.

All started with a complaint filed in January 2015 against the Geneva art dealer Yves Bouvier, accused by Mr. Rybolovlev of having swindled him by selling him with exorbitant margins a collection of paintings worthy of a small museum - including the "Salvator Mundi" by Leonardo da Vinci, since sold for 450 million dollars, but also paintings by Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, Van Gogh ...

During the investigation, the Monegasque justice began to suspect the untouchable Mr. Rybolovlev for having used his interpersonal skills with police officers and ministers to trap Mr. Bouvier. These suspicions were supported by SMS found in the phone of the lawyer billionaire, Me Tetiana Bersheda, and the revelation was a scandal in the summer of 2017.

The unthinkable then occurred: from the complainant's status, Mr Rybolovlev passed to that of mis en cause, indicted in 2018 for "active bribery" and "trading in influence".

- "Economic war" -

"The file is that of a false accusation made possible by a system of corruption that has crushed everything that went in its way," says AFP Me Franck Michel, one of lawyers Yves Bouvier, who believes that the case tables should never have landed on the desk of a judge of Monaco.

"In reality, it's an economic war, everything was done to artificially create a jurisdiction in Monaco: Mr Rybolovlev wanted the trial here because he thought he was winning," he said.

For the past year, he has asked for the cancellation of Mr. Bouvier's indictment for "scams" and "complicity in money laundering". The court of the Monaco Court of Appeal is due to rule on 12 December, but appeals are still possible and the investigation is far from over.

Accused by the Russian clan, who did not wish to speak before December 12, swim in full fantasy, Me Michel ensures various legal problems because he defends Mr. Bouvier.

The judicial clash between the two men resulted in cascading proceedings in France, Switzerland, New York or Singapore, and had considerable consequences on the Rock, over the months and charges.

Suspected of having helped the Russian billionaire, who made his fortune in potash at the time of the privatizations of the Russian economy at the end of the USSR, three high-ranking police officers, the former Minister of Justice Philippe Narmino and the ex-Minister of the Interior Monegasques Paul Masseron are successively implicated.

The scandal bounced back in 2019 when Judge Edouard Levrault, who had charged Mr Rybolovlev and his alleged accomplices in the state apparatus, is asked to leave Monaco faster than expected, without having completed his education. Furious, this French magistrate detached to Monaco challenged his departure in the courts and emptied his bag in L'Obs: "I realized that in Monaco justice should be an institution that settles, and not that disturbs".

- Determined -

A new shock for the Rock and his ruler, Prince Albert II, obliged for the second time in two years to change the Guard of the Seals: since October, it is no longer a Monegasque, but the high French magistrate Robert Gelli who occupies function.

Five years after the start of the case, Dmitry Rybolovlev remains determined to get Monegasque justice to condemn Mr Bouvier.

For his part, the Swiss businessman ensures that the prosecution has branded him with many interlocutors. He had to sell the family-owned moving company that he had prospered in the transport of works of art, and all his art galleries, except one in Paris.

He is still a minority shareholder in the Geneva free port and owns the free port buildings of Luxembourg and Singapore, transit and storage areas not subject to customs.

It is even one of the keys to understanding the case, he says, lending to relatives of Russian power competing projects in Asia, in this area economically buoyant, including Vladivostok.

Yves Bouvier, who knew the Russian billionaire since 2002, also claims that the latter did not appreciate that he did not support it during his stormy divorce.

"I live a war, the damage is huge," he told AFP. "He was indicted by an independent judge," retorted the Russian camp.

© 2019 AFP