Saudi buyer of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi has royal cash link

Saudi Prince Identified as Buyer of $450.3M Leonardo Painting “Salvator Mundi”

The newspaper confirmed that the Prince Bader purchased the rare painting after citing documents it had reviewed while in the midst of an investigation into Saudi Arabia's elite class, including his family and associates.

He is a friend and associate of the country's 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The winning bid in the November 15 auction at Christie's in NY was made anonymously by phone using a Christie's representative.

He is a little-known Saudi prince from a remote branch of the royal family, with no history as a major art collector, and no publicly known source of great wealth.

And even before the disclosure of the record-breaking purchase in a NY art auction by one of his associates, Prince Mohammed's extravagance had already raised eyebrows, most notably with the impulse purchase two years ago in the south of France of a Russian vodka titan's 440-foot yacht, for half a billion dollars. But the timing on this purchase was notable.

The WSJ reporters cite unnamed U.S. intelligence officials and a member of the Saudi art community, the latter of whom asserts: "It's a fact that this deal was done via a proxy".

But the work will give Riyadh bragging rights in a regional tug-of-war for some of the most expensive art works in the world. When the price reached an already world-record $225m, Bader bid in $5m steps to reach $260m in less than two minutes of the auction beginning. Even then, Christie's lawyers remained suspicious, persisting in asking him where he got the money and what his relationship was with the Saudi ruler, King Salman. At that time he put down a $100 million deposit to qualify for bidding.

Christie's let the cat out of the bag yesterday and publically said the artwork would be going to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

But on Wednesday, Louvre Abu Dhabi (which opened in November) announced the upcoming arrival of the painting on twitter.

The choice of painting is also curious.

The Da Vinci's sale to the Saudi royal family also risks offending the deeply conservative nation for its depiction of Jesus, a prophet in Islam.

He is paying for the iconic painting in six installments, with at least five of them priced at more than $58million, the Times reported. The painting's authenticity is still widely questioned by many experts, while the issue of overpainting, restoration and conservation will always be an underlying issue. Some art critics say it lacks the vitality of da Vinci's work, and that it has been painted and scrubbed a number of times.

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