Freeports are massive, maximum-security storage sites often located near airports that allow the rich to store expensive valuables in duty-free zones. There is no customs duty payable when bringing art into the freeports and no sales taxes required when selling a work inside—taxes that could run into the millions of dollars for major works of art.
The freeports have come under scrutiny by regulators in recent years for their secrecy and tax benefits, though Bouvier has always denied that they're used for money-laundering or tax-avoidance.
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In an interview with Spears magazine, that ran earlier this year, Bouvier said the freeports solve a simple problem for today's big art collectors.
"Collectors have a problem: they buy too much," he told Spears. "They are addicts. They have space at home for one and they buy 10."
With his knowledge of the vast troves of art stored and shipped by top collectors, Bouvier also acted as a dealer, offering to buy and sell pieces for clients. He acted as the dealer for several works sold to Rybolovlev, who had been a client of Bouvier's for 10 years, according to the Rybolovlev family's attorney.
Art attorneys say that other dealers and galleries in New York also dealt frequently with Bouvier, representing possible buyers and sellers. And many collectors say they welcome a case that could provide transparency into a multibillion-dollar market that remains largely unregulated and offers little disclosure.
"Collectors have no way of knowing what pieces are really being bought or sold for," said one collector. "Maybe this case will break that open."