Dmitry Rybolovlev allegedly violated privacy of Tania Rappo and used political influence against former art dealer.
A Russian billionaire who has emerged as a central figure in the controversy surrounding the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Kremlin is under investigation in Monaco.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is president of Monaco football club, is expected to be formally charged for allegedly violating the privacy of one-time confidant and friend Tania Rappo, in a case that has raised questions about whether the tycoon used his political influence to wage a legal campaign against his former art dealer.
The development comes as Rybolovlev, who paid Donald Trump $95m for a beachfront property in Florida in 2008, has caught the attention of congressional and federal investigators in the US who are examining alleged dealings between Russian operatives and members of Trump’s inner circle.
The allegations in Monaco against the Russian tycoon, who made his fortune as a fertiliser magnate, are unrelated to the ongoing federal investigation in the US into whether or not the Kremlin colluded with the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
Rybolovlev has never been active in Russian politics and has spent most of the past two decades living abroad. He is known to be close to Yuri Trutnev, a senior adviser to Vladimir Putin and a former mayor of Perm, the city in the Urals where Rybolovlev grew up and had his business until he sold it in 2010.
At the heart of the complicated Monaco case lie claims and counterclaims about Rybolovlev’s art collection and whether the Russian oligarch was swindled by his former art dealer, Yves Bouvier.
Questions have swirled around Bouvier’s alleged dealings for years, but the focus of the scandal has now turned on Rybolovlev himself, who Bouvier has claimed used his political clout to coordinate attacks against him by law enforcement officials.
Monaco’s former justice minister, Philippe Narmino, resigned in September and faced questions from prosecutors after it was alleged in press accounts that he might have received gifts from Rybolovlev as the Russian launched fraud claims against Bouvier.
The formal investigations into Rybolovlev are not centred on allegations of corruption. They relate to claims by Bouvier’s assistant, Rappo, who has said that a conversation she had with an attorney was illegally recorded as part of Rybolovlev’s campaign to prove that he had been defrauded by Bouvier.
Rybolovlev denies wrongdoing. His adviser told the Guardian that the Russian tycoon had only had one intention: to uncover fraud that had been committed against him.
“We have no doubt that we will succeed in doing it and our experience will be very useful for the investors in this market,” Sergey Chernitsyn said.
Rybolovlev also claimed to have full confidence in Monaco’s justice system, which he called “independent and professional”.
“I am very comfortable about the outcome of the current probes and convinced that the judicial system of Monaco will do its work, which we are waiting for impatiently,” he said in a statement.
Rybolovlev is at the centre of attention in the US because of the ongoing investigation by the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In 2008 Rybolovlev bought Trump’s seaside Florida mansion – Maison de L’Amite – for $95m. Trump made a $50m profit, having bought the property just four years earlier. The sale at the peak of the global financial crisis raised eyebrows.
Rybolovlev never set foot inside and eventually demolished the villa, which had a serious mould problem. His spokesman said Rybolovlev had made a good enough investment, with the territory eventually divided into three lots, two of which have since sold for large sums.
There are also questions about whether Rybolovlev ever had personal interactions with Trump. During the US election campaign Rybolovlev’s distinctive private Airbus jet – with the call-sign M-KATE – was spotted in the same place as Trump’s during election rallies.
The two planes landed within an hour of each other in early November 2016 at Charlotte International airport in Virginia. Trump addressed an election rally nearby. Rybolovlev has said this was “pure coincidence” and that he has never met Trump.
The oligarch travels extensively in the US, including New York and LA, for reasons of “business and pleasure”, his spokesman said. Additionally, Rybolovlev’s luxury yacht, “My Anna”, was spotted in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in August 2016, at the same time that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, were visiting on holiday.
Rybolovlev says he has never met Kushner, who is a senior White House adviser.
Originally published at The Guardian