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March 2011

Dealers named in Giacometti fraud case sentenced to two years' imprisonment as over 1,150 sculptures of dubious provenance surface

However, the two chief defendants must wait until all evidence has been seen before the verdict can be given

Three people have been convicted of commercial fraud and falsification of documents as part of an ongoing investigation into an alleged counterfeiting ring of Alberto Giacometti sculptures in Germany. The trial of two more is still ongoing. The indictment was filed with the Stuttgart District Court in August 2010 and the open trial against all of them began in November.

The trial concerns the seizure of more than 1,150 suspect sculptures. Over 1,000 bronzes and plasters were taken from a Mainz warehouse in August 2009, with the remainder from various locations around Germany and abroad in the subsequent months, said the Stuttgart public prosecutor Mirja Feldmann.

Three of the defendants have been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, while evidence is still being heard relating to the two lead defendants. One of these, a 59-year-old man, posed as an imperial count and told would-be buyers that the works came from a secret cache built up by Diego Giacometti [the younger brother of Alberto], an alleged friend.

The pseudo-count wrote his thoughts in a series of books, including Diego’s Revenge (first edition, 2004), penned by “Count Waldstein”, which he presented to collectors as provenance. He has admitted to selling the works, but says that they came via Diego (who died in 1985).

The other defendant is a 62-year-old art dealer from Mainz. In open trial, he confessed that he had suspected the sculptures were not authentic. He admits helping to ghost-write the books, and says he was involved in creating the authenticity certificates. However, he denies owning the bulk of the bronzes, and so profiting from their sale, saying the works belonged to the “count”.

Feldmann has asked that the Mainz dealer be sentenced to nine years, if convicted, although if he confesses, this is likely to be reduced. It is thought the “count” may receive a longer sentence, if convicted, as he is alleged to be the operation’s front man.

The three sentenced defendants are two art dealers from Wiesbaden, and the wife of the Mainz dealer. As they have no previous convictions, their sentences have been suspended and it is unlikely that they will serve jail time. They are subject to “very high fines”, said Feldmann, who added that they are obliged to try to restitute their victims. Two of the defendants have said they will sell some land to fund this.

An expert panel has concluded that the works are not genuine, said Feldmann. The panel comprised Mary Lisa Palmer from the Association Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Hubert Lacroix, who inspected the sculptures bearing the “Susse” foundry mark, Gilles Perrault, who examined sculptures bearing a foundry mark similar to the Rudier imprint, and Véronique Wiesinger from the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti. An analysis of the chemical composition of the bronzes was also conducted by the Institut Fresenius.

“I think most of the sculptures have been found but there might still be some out there,” said Feldmann, adding that the majority of the works are likely to be destroyed. She expects the case to conclude in May.