As the opening witness in a civil art fraud trial this week, Mikhail Sazonov testified that his employer, a Russian oligarch, had been tricked to overspend by a Swiss art dealer and that those markups had been boosted by the evaluations of artworks supplied by a Sotheby’s executive.
But during cross-examination on Wednesday, a lawyer for the auction house barely mentioned that employee, Samuel Valette. Instead, the lawyer, Sara Shudofsky, portrayed Sazonov and his boss, Dmitry Rybolovlev, a billionaire who earned his fortune in the potash industry and the owner of Monaco’s soccer team, as overly credulous and lax in their review of their art transactions.
The lawyer began her questioning by running through a litany of claims that the Swiss dealer, Yves Bouvier, had made in emails, all of which she depicted as false and some of which described negotiations with fictitious sellers that never took place.
“At the time of these email exchanges you believed Mr. Bouvier’s lies?” Shudofsky asked.
“That’s right,” Sazonov replied.
Sotheby’s is the defendant in the trial, in Manhattan, which stems from the sale of some of the 38 artworks that Rybolovlev bought for more than $2 billion over a period of years with Bouvier’s help. A dozen of the sales involved Sotheby’s, and the trial is focusing on the sales of four specific works — a Modigliani sculpture and paintings by da Vinci, Klimt and Magritte.
Rybolovlev has said that he believed that Bouvier, who is not a defendant in the case, was acting as a commissioned consultant, assisting him in obtaining rare artworks at a good price. Bouvier has said he was operating as an independent dealer, not solely as an adviser, and was free to charge what he wanted for a work.
Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.
Thank you for your patience while we verify access.
Already a subscriber? Log in.
Want all of The Times? Subscribe.