Wednesday 11 April 2012

Beware the Dealers' Scam: A Cautionary Venetian Tale

A case reported from Venice puts a new twist on no-questions-asked dealing in antiquities and "ancient art". Some dealers allegedly sold a another dealer several works of art at a "very convenient" price. As the story goes, the works actually were fake, but it seems the buyer did not know this at the time. Then it seems that they convinced the buyer that this was 'hot art', stolen and that he had to pay a third party to avoid getting sued for the return of the objects. Allegedly they claimed that if he was not paid off this third person would pressurise them into revealing to the police where the 'stolen' art was. This of course would affect his reputation as a dealer and he started paying the gang and, it seems, surrendering other artworks. Apparently this went on for a year and the man and his family were receiving more and more threats. In the end, the sums demanded reportedly reached over 80 thousand euros. It seems that the man, tired of paying and being the victim of blackmail, reported everything to the police who set a trap to blackmailers and have them arrested. Three people have been arrested by the Guardia di Finanza in Venice charged with extortion and aggravated robbery. The moral for collectors is that they should beware of dealers offering them stuff to which they cannot give a good title upfront. Otherwise doing deals with people like that may lead to all sorts of trouble.

 Estorsione, tre arresti a Venezia 

 Venezia - Imprenditore ricattato con false opere d'arte "rubate" 

 Venezia, estorsione a imprenditore: tre arresti 

 Venezia. Estorsione a imprenditore: 3 arresti

Of course, there is another issue here. Why, when informed that he had inadvertently bought stolen goods from a bloke, did the victim not go immediately  go to the police to report the crime, instead of accepting that he would be mixed up in the handling of what he now knew were stolen goods? The articles say it was out of fear for his "reputation" as a dealer. What a weird mixed up world the art dealer lives in if reputations are built not of keeping out of deals involving stolen material (and when inadvertently involved by oversight, trying his best to repair the damage), but by the ability to cover them up. Is the no-questions-asked international trade in dugup antiquities any different?  

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