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Vekselberg Wins London Fake-Art Claim Against Christie’s

Viktor Vekselberg, the billionaire who owns part of a Russian oil venture with BP Plc, won a claim to recoup losses from U.K. auctioneer Christie’s International after paying 1.7 million pounds ($2.6 million) for what he thought was a painting by Russian artist Boris Kustodiev.

Judge Guy Newey in London said that the painting was “the work of someone other than” Kustodiev and Veksleberg’s Aurora Fine Arts Investment Ltd. had the right to return the painting “and recover the money it paid.” Newey cleared Christie’s of negligence in his written judgment.

“It is a matter of huge regret to Aurora that it was forced to sue Christie’s,” Andrey Shtorkh, Vekselberg’s spokesman, said by phone from Moscow today. “We are pleased with the ruling, which confirmed that the experts from Russian museums were correct in asserting that the painting is not the work of Kustodiev.”

Vekselberg, chairman of Renova Group, has a net worth of about $14 billion according to data collected by Bloomberg. In March, he stepped down as chairman of United Co. Rusal, the world’s biggest aluminum maker, citing disputes with co-founder Oleg Deripaska, including the refusal to sell Rusal’s stake in OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel.

“We are surprised and disappointed by his view of the painting’s attribution,” a spokesman for London-based Christie’s said in a statement after the ruling. “We maintain our belief in the attribution to Kustodiev and are considering our options.”

Dispute Resolution

Aurora first notified Christie’s of its concerns about the painting in November 2006 and expected the matter would be resolved through Christie’s own dispute resolution procedure, Shtorkh said.

Kustodiev, born in 1878, rose to prominence in the early part of the 20th century and “is to Russians what Laurence Stephen Lowry is to the English, in terms of the affection in which he is held,” Newey said in his judgment.

Aurora bought the painting, dubbed Odalisque, in 2005 for 1.7 million pounds after Christie’s valued it at between 180,000 and 200,000 pounds for auction.

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