A Spanish court has sentenced an art collector and fraudster to four years in prison for trying to sell 15 fake works, including a forged Edvard Munch print and a copy of Roy Lichtenstein’s famous Whaam! diptych, at a Madrid auction house.
The audiencia provincial in Madrid heard that the defendant, named as Guillermo CT, signed a contract with the Setdart auction house in the capital in January 2018 to sell 16 works, including seven by the late Spanish sculptor and engraver Eduardo Chillida, a Munch lithograph, two Lichtensteins, four lithographs by José Guerrero and one lithograph by Saul Steinberg.
But it later transpired that 15 of the 16 pieces were forgeries made by the defendant or by a third party working on his behalf, “with the aim of obtaining unlawful economic benefit and without the permission of the holders of the intellectual property rights”.
The alarm was raised after a buyer who had unwittingly acquired two forged Chillida prints offered by the defendant at earlier auctions in Madrid and Munich alerted police to the possibility that two more fake Chillidas were being offered for sale at Setdart.
Police eventually recovered all the 16 works that the defendant had deposited at the auction house, including the sole genuine work, by David Hockney.
Francisco Baena, the director of the José Guerrero centre in Granada, told the trial that the paper and materials in the works attributed to the artists were wrong. What’s more, he added: “Guerrero was always firm and sure, but the painter of the works the police showed me was hesitant – as if he knew what he was making was a forgery.”
In the sentence, the judges noted that a key point was whether the defendant knew the works he had deposited for sale were fakes. They concluded that he had on the basis that this was not “an isolated or fortuitous case” and that the defendant had previously been investigated for trying to sell other works attributed to Chillida.
The case against him was further bolstered by the fact that the Guerrero works he eventually sold through Setdart had already been withdrawn from sale by a different auction house after the Guerrero centre had raised doubts as to their authenticity.
“Nevertheless, despite the defendant knowing that the works were very probably forgeries, that did not stop him then depositing them for sale at Setdart.”
The judges sentenced him to a total of four years’ imprisonment for violating intellectual property rights and for fraud.
He was also ordered to compensate the buyers of the forged works, and to pay damages of €48,000 (£42,300) to the heirs of José Guerrero and €39,700 to the company that manages the Chillida estate.