A £200m crime ring headed by the Moriarty of Old Masters

Venus by Lucas Cranach at the RA © Getty images
Venus: painted by a master forger?

A ring of Italian art forgers led by the “Moriarty of Old Masters” is thought to be behind a string of “brilliant” fakes that could leave art collectors £200m out of pocket, reports Adam Luck in The Mail on Sunday. Bob Haboldt, an internationally renowned art dealer, described it as “the biggest art scandal in a century”.

The suspected forgeries first came to light earlier this year when Venus, a painting by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach, belonging to the Prince of Liechtenstein, was seized by police in southern France as a suspected fraud. The painting, now being examined at the Louvre in Paris, had been sold to the prince by London’s Colnaghi Gallery in 2013.

The plot thickened when the “distinguished” American buyer of two paintings, An Unknown Man by the Dutch painter Frans Hals, and David With The Head of Goliath by Italian artist Orazio Gentileschi, discovered the Hals painting had links to the Cranach. Auction house Sotheby’s, which brokered the deal, agreed to refund the £8.4m when its experts agreed it was a fake, and is understood to be attempting to recoup its losses from the seller, London dealer Mark Weiss.

A further 25 Old Masters paintings suspected of coming from the same forgers’ workshop are thought to be under investigation by French authorities, with the potential losses amounting to £200m. “The implications will be that buyers will insist on more guarantees, scientific and financial,” says Haboldt.