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Prints fraud led by grandmother

SOME PEOPLE remember Hilda Amiel as a sweet granny in her seventies who loved nothing better than a chat with the neighbours. Few could have guessed that Mrs Amiel was masterminding the world's largest art counterfeiting ring from Long Island, New York.

In an art scam worth, according to one report, up to dollars 500m ( pounds 325m), a gang including her two daughters and granddaughter flooded the market with tens of thousands of 'limited edition' prints by Picasso, Chagall, Miro and Dali. They were sold world-wide by the Amiels' company, Original Artworks.

The story has been revealed in the US courts following an 18-month investigation by police. But Mrs Amiel, who took over the family business from her husband, died last January, before the trial began. One source said she was charged, but not tried, because she was dying of cancer.

The daughters, Kathryn Amiel, 49, and Joanne Amiel, 46, and granddaughter, Sarina Amiel, 25, have been found guilty of fraud and conspiracy charges and await what could be long sentences. Throughout the trial, they insisted they had no idea the artwork was counterfeit. Original Artworks sold works to more than 100 dealers. Collectors were duped into paying several thousand pounds for prints worth perhaps pounds 5. When police raided the company's warehouse, they found about 77,000 prints, including 50,000 'Dalis' and 20,000 'Miros'.

The prints are 'terrible', according to Constance Lowenthal of the International Foundation for Art Research in New York, who first came across one of the fakes about 10 years ago: 'I have one, a 'Dali', hanging on my wall, as a memento. The process by which they were produced is the same for colour printing that you have in any magazine.'

According to the Chicago Tribune, a large Miro print titled La Captive, sold for about dollars 12,000, showed that someone had used felt-tip to touch up the image.

A 1736 silver chandelier made by Balthasar Friedrich Behrens has been sold for pounds 2.27m by Christie's in Monaco, to the leading Al Tajir silver collection. Sold on behalf of the fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, the chandelier set a record price for a piece of silver.