Justice Department steps in

What began in the rarefied realms of Monaco and Geneva, with allegations of stolen Picassos and marked-up Modiglianis, has now jumped the Atlantic and drawn the attention of the US Justice Department, according to Bloomberg.

Federal prosecutors, following the lead of European authorities, have opened an inquiry into one of the art world’s consummate insiders, Yves Bouvier – including in his dealings the rediscovered Leonardo da Vinci Salvator Mundi, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move marks the first time that federal authorities have trained their sights on a scandal that has shaken Europe’s notoriously private ecosystem of art dealers, middlemen and collectors. While still in its infancy, the US probe also underscores prosecutors’ general concerns about the opacity of the market in art – which, like high-end real estate, can serve as a conduit for money laundering.

For months Mr Bouvier, 52, has been battling his one-time patron, the billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. The Russian oligarch, by his own count, has spent more than $2 billion on close to 40 works purchased through Mr Bouvier over the past decade.

Mr Bouvier reportedly swindled Mr Rybolovlev out of many millions by sharply marking up prices on several acquisitions and pocketing the difference, the Russian billionaire alleged in a complaint to Monaco authorities.