Art scandal deepens as 'Stolen' Picassos surface

The missing Picasso paintings

Picasso paintings stolen in Paris were purchased by a Russian billionaire's family trust from a powerful art advisor now accused of fraud, according to attorneys and media reports. (Tweet This)

Picasso's stepdaughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay, has filed charges against a Paris art dealer accusing him of stealing artworks that he was supposed to be storing and shipping for her. The dealer, Olivier Thomas, was detained in Paris last week and released, according to French media reports. The works included at least two Picassos—portraits of Hutin-Blay's mother Jacqueline Roque—as well as a Rembrandt.

A lawyer for Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev has confirmed that "some" of the Picassos alleged to be stolen were purchased by Rybolovlev through his art broker and adviser, Yves Bouvier. Bouvier is a longtime business partner of Thomas and was recently arrested on fraud charges in Monaco.

Catherine Hutin Blay, daughter of Pablo Picasso's wife Jacqueline Picasso.
Lionel Cironneau | AP

The stolen Picassos mark the latest in a widening scandal surrounding Bouvier and his vast global art empire.

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Bouvier was arrested in February on charges of fraud and document forgery in selling more than $2 billion worth or artwork over several years to Rybolovlev. The case has exposed the dark underside of the $60 billion-a-year art world and touched off calls for greater transparency and more disclosure, especially by dealers and brokers.

Attorneys for Bouvier and Thomas didn't respond to requests for comment.

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Tetiana Bersheda, a lawyer for the Rybolovlev family trust, said in a statement that "some of the works" alleged to be stolen were purchased from Bouvier in 2013 by Accent Delight, a company associated with the family trust. There is no suggestion that Rybolovlev or the family trusts knew the pieces were stolen when they were acquired, since news of the Picasso thefts has only emerged in recent days.

Dmitry Rybolovlev
Valery Hache | AFP | Getty Images

"Considering Mr. Bouvier's particularly shocking methods, Accent Delight filed a complaint on April 9 with the Paris police against persons unknown for theft, receipt of stolen property, and fraud," Bersheda said. She added that the "paintings which Mrs. Catherine Hutin considers to be stolen from her are at the authorities' disposal to be identified."

Bouvier's attorney, Luc Brossollet, said in an earlier statement that Bouvier "never heard of any stolen Picassos. For all the paintings he acquired, he asked for a certificate from the Art Loss Register, demonstrating that it has not been registered as missing or stolen."

The names and values of the Picassos in question have yet to be released. Bersheda said the paintings are "at the authorities' disposal to be identified."

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According to media reports, Hutin-Blay learned the whereabouts of her Picassos from news stories last month detailing the dispute between Rybolovlev and Bouvier.

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Bouvier runs a vast global art-storage and shipping business and is one of the biggest players in the growing business of "freeports"—vast warehouses in Singapore, Geneva and Luxembourg that store billions of dollars worth of art and other valuables. Bouvier was chairman of the Luxembourg Freeport but stepped down last month after his arrest. Thomas, Bouvier's business partner, replaced Bouvier as chairman.

In her statement, Bersheda said, "Accent Delight representatives want to help make the art market more transparent and modern by tackling those parts of the market with criminal interests."

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