$80 Million Fight Over a Leonardo Da Vinci

davinci-salvatoreMANHATTAN (CN) — Sotheby’s auction house filed a pre-emptive lawsuit Monday seeking to absolve itself from an international art feud involving the $80 million sale of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”

The complaint against two New York art galleries, four LLCs and three people stems from a larger tussle between Russian billionaire art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev and Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier.

Rybolovlev has claimed in numerous lawsuits around the world that Bouvier cheated out him of $1 billion in transactions involving 38 works of art.

In 2013, a consortium of collector and dealer defendants sold Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for a total value of $80 million, including money and art trades, to a Bouvier-controlled entity, according to Sotheby’s federal lawsuit.

After the defendants learned that Bouvier had resold Salvator Mundi to Rybolovlev for more money, they allegedly felt entitled to the price that Rybolovlev paid.

Sotheby’s says Bouvier paid it a $3 million commission for facilitating the sale.

The auction house says the defendant collectors and dealers intend to sue Sotheby’s for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and RICO violations.

Sotheby’s seeks declaratory judgment that it has complied with all of its obligations related to Salvator Mundi and has no other obligations to defendants stemming from those sales agreements. It also seeks judgment that it is not liable for any loss the defendants may suffer or have suffered from the sale.

“Sotheby’s was not involved with Bouvier’s resale of the Salvator Mundi to Rybolovlev and it derived no financial benefit whatsoever from the sale,” the complaint states.

“Sotheby’s only learned of the resale of the painting to Rybolovlev after Bouvier’s arrest in Monaco, almost two years following the defendants’ sale of the painting to Bouvier.”

Defendant Robert Simon said in a statement that Sotheby’s lawsuit came as a surprise.

“It was clearly filed by Sotheby’s to spin their egregious behavior in the face of media scrutiny rather than for any legal purpose. We had been participating in good faith efforts to resolve our claims against Sotheby’s in a private, confidential manner,” Simon said. His Tuxedo Park address, in the complaint, is the same as co-defendant Robert Simon Fine Art.

Also named as defendants are R.W. Chandler LLC, of Massachusetts; Six Hamilton LLC, a Delaware LLC based in New York state; Salvator Mundi LLC, a Delaware LLC; Rittenhouse Associates LLC, a New York LLC based in Massachusetts; Adelson Galleries Inc., a Fifth Avenue gallery in New York City; Warren Adelson; and Alexander Parish, of New City, N.Y.

According to Sotheby’s lawsuit, Russian fertilizer billionaire Rybolovlev bought Salvator Mundi from Bouvier for $127.5 million after Bouvier bluffed that he had rejected an offer of $100 million.

Rybolovlev apparently demands the $47.5 million difference between his purchase price and the $80 million deal facilitated by the consortium of defendants.

Rybolovlev has filed lawsuits against Bouvier and related entities throughout the world, including in Monaco, France, and Singapore.

Robert Simon said in an email, “Now that Sotheby’s has chosen to air the dispute publicly, we will correct these distortions and describe the true facts in appropriate court actions.”

Sotheby’s is represented by Marcus Asner with Arnold & Porter.