Great Impressionist? New York art dealer faces trial for forgery

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Time has run out for a well-known Manhattan gallery owner who has been charged with forging works by numerous post-Impressionist and Impressionist painters and selling them to unsuspecting buyers around the world.

Time has run out for a well-known Manhattan gallery owner who has been charged with forging works by numerous post-Impressionist and Impressionist painters and selling them to unsuspecting buyers around the world.

His racket extended from New York to London, Tokyo, Paris and Taipei.

Prosecutors alleged that Ely Sakhai, a dealer who runs the Art Collection Inc gallery on Broadway in lower Manhattan, with scamming his customers for years. He faces eight charges of fraud that could carry sentences of 20 years each. He was freed yesterday on $1m (£555,000) bail.

"Sakhai has for years engaged in a scheme to defraud the international art market through the sale of forged works of art," said James Wynne, an FBI agent.

According to the complaints, Mr Sakhai would buy genuine works with their certificates of authenticity. He would then have forged copies made and sell them complete with the certificates. Finally, he would wait a few years before selling the genuine originals.

Mr Sakhai allegedly duplicated 25 works by painters such as Claude Monet, Marc Chagall, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin and Paul Klee. Prosecutors said he had been pursuing his forgeries racket for about 14 years.

For example, the dealer was said to have bought Chagall's La Nappe Mauve in 1990 at Christie's auction house in London for about $312,000. A forged copy of the same work was subsequently sold - with the certificate of authenticity - to a dealer in Tokyo for $514,000.

Five years later, Mr Sakhai allegedly returned to Christie's in London and sold the real Chagall for $340,000. The alleged swindles helped Mr Sakhai maintain a lavish lifestyle.

The 52-year-old art dealer lived in the comfortable Westbury community on Long Island in a mansion fronted by an elaborate fountain with frolicking dolphins.

He also has interests in oil wells through a company called Australian-Canadian Oil Royalties.

More than one of his victims was in Tokyo. According to the complaint, a second Tokyo dealer bought as many as 11 paintings from Mr Sakhai, most of them fakes, including a a replica of Renoir's Jeune Femme S'Essuyant.

Mr Sakhai had bought the authentic work at Sotheby's in 1988 for about $35,000. Prosecutors said he sold the forgery to the Tokyo dealer for $50,480 in 1994. It was not until 2000 that he submitted the original back to Sotheby's in New York. It sold for $65,000.

The case was broken when a dealer who had bought a work by the expressionist Klee from Mr Sakhai was puzzled when he saw the same work being sold a few years later.

He alerted the authorities who launched an investigation leading to the dealer's arrest on Wednesday.

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