Duo found guilty of Australia’s biggest art fraud in history

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MELBOURNE: Two Australian art enthusiasts have been convicted for carrying out the biggest case of art fraud in the nation’s history – passing off fake paintings as the work of renowned diseased artist, Brett Whiteley, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

Melbourne-based art dealer Peter Gant, 60, and art conservator Mohamed Aman Siddique, 67, were found guilty of creating three works – Blue Lavender, Orange Lavender Bay and Through the Window – that mimicked the distinct style of Whiteley, who died of a drug overdose 24 years ago.

The Victorian Supreme Court said the pair sold two of the paintings for US$2.6 million, while the third unsold item had an asking price of around US$700,000.

A Fairfax Media report published on Friday said the Crown claimed Siddique painted the three pieces in his workshop from 2007, before enlisting the help of Gant to sell them to deep-pocketed investors.

Defence lawyers for the men conceded replicas of Whiteley’s work had been made, but argued the three paintings were in fact originals kept under lock and key in Gant’s storeroom for nearly 20 years.

However Whiteley’s widow, Wendy, disputed that claim insisting the paintings were definitely fakes.

Crown prosecutor Susan Borg suggested that the wife’s assessment was more valid than the opinions of other art dealers as she had intimate knowledge of her husband’s work.

Borg told the court that reputable auction houses might also have an ulterior motive to contend long-lost paintings from critically-acclaimed artists were real.

“Auction houses work on a commission basis, on the sale of such work you might think they might have a vested interest in saying how terrific something is,” she said.

The pair were both found guilty of two counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception, and one count of attempting to gain a financial advantage by deception.

Despite calls from the prosecution to revoke their bail, Borg and Gant walked free from court.

A pre-sentence hearing is not expected to commence until sometime next month. — Bernama