Mystery Salvator Mundi buyer was a Saudi prince

Mohammed bin Salman wins TIME’s Person of the Year 2017 online reader poll

Making a record-breaking art purchase in his own name might be awkward for the crown prince because he is leading a sweeping crackdown on corruption and self-enrichment by the elite of the kingdom - including some of his royal cousins.

United States government intelligence sources and a Saudi art-world figure all confirmed to The Journal that Crown Prince Mohammed was the buyer of a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus Christ.

The Journal reported that Bader was the nominal buyer, but said MBS was identified in U.S. intelligence reports as the true owner. Today, a report by Shane Harris, Kelly Crow, Summer Said in the Wall Street Journal suggests that prince Bader merely served as a proxy, and that the real buyer of the most expensive artwork ever sold is none other than his good friend, the heir apparent to the Saudi throne, Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

That sum easily eclipsed the previous art record of $179m (£115m) for a Pablo Picasso work sold in 2015. His statement did not mention the painting or address whether he had bought it. Prince Bader did not respond to a detailed request for comment.

He also seems to move closely in the orbit of his contemporary, Crown Prince Mohammed...

Prince Bader, the named buyer, has no publicly known source of wealth that would enable him to make such an expensive purchase.

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But Prince Mohammed, whom the Times describes as King Salman's favored son and key adviser, has himself been criticized for his spending habits, including impulsively spending half a billion dollars on a yacht a year ago while at the same time slashing capital spending by 71 percent.

Bader made the record-breaking offer for "Salvator Mundi" after 19 minutes of dueling with four other bidders at Christie's auction house in Manhattan on November 15.

The work - known as Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World) by Leonardo da Vinci - is is heading to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the museum has said.

The Louvre has not disclosed whether it will receive the painting as a gift, a loan or a rental. Prince Bader is close to Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who recently had hundreds of the country's princes, businessmen, and government officials arrested, accusing them of having made billions illicitly.

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