Four on trial in Germany for fake art scam

1st September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Two men and two women went on trial in this west German city Thursday accused of selling forged expressionist paintings for several million euros in a case that has rocked the art world.

The four, who were not asked to enter a plea on Thursday, allegedly forged and then sold through galleries and auction houses at least 14 paintings presented as the work of early 20th century masters such as Max Ernst, Fernand Leger, Andre Derain, and Heinrich Campendonk, prosecutors said.

The gang is believed to have netted at least 15.8 million euros ($22.5 million) over a period of several years.

The alleged forger, described by prosecutor Kathrin Franz as "technically skilled", was named as 60-year-old Wolfgang Beltracchi.

His wife, Helene, 53, also on trial, is alleged to have passed off some of the unknown paintings as coming from a collection belonging to her grandfather, Werner Jaeger, a rich Cologne businessman who died in 1992.

Helene's sister, Jeanette Spurzem, 54, was also allegedly involved.

The fourth accused, Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, 67, also passed off some of the paintings as coming from the collection of his own rich and dead grandfather, Wilhelm Knops.

Investigators are still looking into the provenance of 33 more paintings which could also prove to be forgeries.

The gang managed to convince a number of art experts and gallery directors the paintings were genuine.

It was only after investigators found that one of the paintings, allegedly completed by Max Pechstein in 1908, actually contained blue pigments which only came into being in 1935 that suspicion fell on the gang.

They face possible prison sentences of up to 10 years.

© 2011 AFP

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