German court jails art forgery ring

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A German court sentenced a ring of four art forgers Thursday for copying Expressionist artworks by masters such as Max Ernst and Max Pechstein and selling them in a Europe-wide scam.

The two men and two women, all Germans including a married couple, admitted selling copies of 14 works for millions of euros (dollars) in one of the largest schemes of its kind in recent decades, the court in the western city of Cologne said.

According to the mass-circulation Bild newspaper, the quartet sold a fake Heinrich Campendonk painting to Hollywood comedian Steve Martin for 850,000 euros ($1.2 million).

They reportedly also swindled German billionaire Reinhold Wuerth, owner of a museum in Alsace, according to the paper.

Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi, 60, received the heaviest sentence of six years, while his wife Helene, 53, was jailed for four years. Her sister, Jeanette Spurzem, 54, was given a suspended sentence of a year and nine months.

The fourth member of the ring, Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, 68, was jailed for five years.

The defendants, who could have faced 10 years in prison, were offered lighter sentences in exchange for full confessions.

© 2011 AFP

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