Mystery Salvator Mundi buyer was a Saudi prince

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

Prince Mohammed bin Salman. PTI file

The prince will not be keeping the art at home.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has undertaken an anti-corruption campaign, bought the painting using a distant relative as a "proxy", the newspaper said Thursday, citing a source in the USA government intelligence community and a Saudi art-world figure familiar with the purchase.

The winning bid in the November 15 auction at Christie's in NY was made anonymously by phone using a Christie's representative. But Prince Mohammed is identified as the painting's buyer in USA intelligence reports, the newspaper said. Many of Saudi Arabia's richest and most powerful people were arrested and jailed last month.

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.

Documents provided from inside Saudi Arabia and reviewed by The Times reveal that representatives for the buyer, Prince Bader, did not present him as a bidder until the day before the sale. Christie's pressed him to establish both his identity and the source of his money. Pressed for more information, Prince Bader reportedly gave a terse reply, saying he was in the real estate business and was one of the country's 5,000 princes.

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

The French weekly le Journal du Dimanche earlier reported that two investment firms were behind the painting's purchase as part of a financial arrangement involving several museums.

Painted in oil on a wooden board measuring 18 by 26 inches, "Salvator Mundi" shows its subject gazing dreamily at the viewer, his right hand raised in benediction, while his left clutches a crystal orb.

The Journal says the painting was offered to the royal family in Qatar - Saudi Arabia's regional rival - in 2011 for a mere $80 million.

He is paying for the iconic painting in six installments, with at least five of them priced at more than $58million, the Times reported.

There are also questions about the authenticity of the painting. Russian billionaire Dmitry E. Rybolovlev was the previous owner, who paid $127.5 million in 2013.

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