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August 27, 2021

The lifestyles of Cocainenomics: Dubai Police release video footage of Raffaele Imperiale and announce the arrest of another fugitive Raffaele Mauriello

The General Department of Criminal Investigation of the Dubai Police has released a somewhat dramatic video that shows the capture and arrest of fugitive Raffaele Imperiale, the Camorra affiliated boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan which supplied cocaine to Amato and Scarpa, who, years back and already on the run in Dubai, admitted to purchasing two stolen Van Gogh paintings and to his illegal operations in letters to the Italian prosecuting authorities.  Sentenced in absentia, Imperiale is known to have continued working in the illegal drug trade, even after his conviction and despite being named as a fugitive wanted for prosecution in a 27 January 2016 red list notice. 

Living under the assumed name, Antonio Rocco, mafia boss Imperiale continued to meet and transact underworld business with affiliates of his crime syndicate in various locations in the UAE city.  Video images of his arrest released by the Dubai police attest that the Italian drug lord was using a Federation of Russia driving license and passport, as at least one means of staying below law enforcement radar.  

Scenes in the three-minute video released by police give us a sanitised look at policework in the UAE, as well as a voyeur's peep show inside Imperiale's Dubai digs, complete with luxury cars, a villa, duffle bags containing hundreds of dollars, and boxes of unopened phones, which may have been used to impede wiretaps.  One of the most bizarre images on the film was a rather ironic Avengers artwork hanging on Imperiale's wall.  Hanging next to an elevator, the painting or poster depicts a maniacally grinning Pablo Escobar, recreating the Colombian narcoterrorist's mug shot photo by Colombia's Cárcel del Distrito Judicial de Medellín during Escobar's years of Argento O Piombo. The irony here is not lost as it was with the use of bribes (silver) with a not-so-subtle threat of violence (lead), that allowed the Medellín Cartel drug lord to pump an endless supply of cocaine into the market while remaining free from justice for as long as he did. 

Major General Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansouri, Assistant Commander-in-Chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs at the Dubai Police, told UAE news services that police had also arrested fellow Camorrista Raffaele Mauriello, also known as 'o Chiatto', another prominent member of the Amato-Pagano clan.  Like Imperiale, 31-year-old Mauriello, was a fugitive on the run from Italian justice for almost three years.  

Wanted in connection with charges of murder as well as drug trafficking, Mauriello was apprehended in Dubai on 14 August, following closely on investigations coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Naples, led by Giovanni Melillo, and conducted by the Mobile Squad of the Naples Police Headquarters, led by Alfredo Fabbrocini, with the support of the Central Operational Service of the State Police.

Imperiale's clansman was identified by law enforcement authorities in Italy as having been involved in two mob hits during the violent Third Scampia feud, which resulted in the murders of Fabio Cafasso, killed in Scampia in 2011, and the double murder of Andrea Castello and Antonio Ruggiero, each killed one day after each other in Casandrino in 2014.  Prior to their arrest, Imperiale and Mauriello had been under close surveillance by Dubai investigators from the General Department of Criminal Investigation, aided by analysts working at the Dubai Police Criminal Data Analysis Centre and the “Oyoon” AI Surveillance Programme. The Oyoon (Eyes) project is part of the Dubai 2021 plan to enhance the emirate’s global position in terms of providing a safer living experience for all its (legal) citizens, residents and visitors.

August 26, 2021

The curious case of Sadigh Gallery and the long-time coming arrest of its owner

In April 2019 the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum cancelled the opening of its Rosetta Stone exhibit after University of Iowa Associate Professor Bjorn Anderson wrote to them about his concerns that 90 of the 125 objects in the exhibit appeared to be “either definite or very likely fakes.”  The questionable items had been purchased by Marty Martin, the CEO of the Origins Museum Institute via Mehrdad Sadigh, also known as Michael Sadigh, a New York-based antiquities dealer who has operated Sadigh Gallery out of the Jewelry Building (Buchman and Fox: 1910) on 5th avenue for decades.

This month, Sadigh, an Iranian immigrant, purportedly from Luristan with a family tree of antiquities merchants, was arrested by law enforcement acting on a State warrant in connection with charges involving his business where it is alleged that the founder of Sadigh Galler was directly involved in counterfeiting thousands of faux antiquities on the premises of his gallery which he then sold to customers. 

Sadigh, whose website has now been taken down, (don't worry, there are lots of saved pages and catalogues in various archives), reportedly began selling ancient art at the age of 17.  According to his Linkedin profile, which was still active as of today, he started his business by mail-order and ultimately opened his bricks-and-mortar gallery in Manhattan in 1982.  In the beginning, he sometimes collaborated with Joel Malter and his pieces were, for the most part, considered to be authentic. 

But, as the years marched forward, Mehrdad Sadigh became something of a pariah among his fellow ancient art dealers, as well as among schnookered collectors.  Type his name, or the name of Sadigh Gallery into Google and the search engine will spit out a long list of cautionary Buyer Beware stories, many written by frustrated art collectors who poured their money into pieces later determined to be faked. Dealers and seasoned collectors advise ingenious new collectors to avoid purchases from the gallery directly, and the purchase of objects once handled by the gallery. 

One 2015 complaint, from a defrauded buyer, is almost prescient.  It outlines how Mehrdad Sadigh came to his home and refunded the collector his money when the purchases through Sadigh Gallery were discovered to be modern copies.  The commenter gave a warning, to novice shoppers, that up until then, no one had sued the dealer, and stating that the Manhattan DA had not (yet) investigated the problematic dealer for fraud.  

Image Credit: ARCA Screenshot July 2015

In fact, up until recently, Sadigh Gallery's "no hassle" return policy for any customer who complained that an object was fake, has helped protect the dealer from a barrage of lawsuits that might have otherwise have been filed, requiring him to testify under oath as to the authenticity and provenance of the objects his gallery sold.  When clients complain, Sadigh simply reassumes the offending item, opens his chequebook and refunds the dissatisfied purchaser without a fuss.  What he hasn't done though, is go back and refund all the uninformed and unsuspecting buyers who have not yet ascertained that they too have been duped.

Frustrated, the collecting community lashed out, taking shots at the scurrilous gallery owner all over the internet.  Buyers wrote complaints about his activity to the Better Business Bureau.  They documented negative experiences on Trip Advisor, and saved damning images to Pinterest boards highlighting the variety of alleged fakes sold as authentic.  They compiled Rip-Off Reports, and even created a YouTube channel replete with dramatic music highlighting the numerous problems with the gallery's merchandise.  One of these videos was even memorialised on the website of ICOM's Observatory for Illicit Traffic.

ARCA's own research documents Sadigh's supply chain via shipping container manifests.  Two of these, picked at random, illustrate that in 2007 Sadigh's imported a container containing 214 "Statues Handycraft" and in 2017 another container with 42 "Statues, Stone Panels, Wooden Panels, Wooden Decoration box".  Neither shipment, as one would suspect from a purported antiquities dealer, describe the imports' contents as anything actually ancient.  Nor has ARCA identified any common handicraft replicas identified as such being sold through Sadigh Gallery's regular inventory. 

By 2013 things began to be charged.  A petition was started by Sadigh's customers and collecting advocates, which garnered more than 150 signatures from individuals complaining about the dealer himself or outlining their personal sales experiences with Sadigh Gallery.  Dr. Erin Thompson, who frequently outs suspect material on Twitter, lampooned one of Sadigh's more distasteful sales items, a purportedly ancient Egyptian mummified penis.  Noted as Item 45170 in one of the gallery's catalogues, it is listed both as "Ptolemaic" and "real and lifelike" and can be had for the bargain price of $7,500.

Outraged comment after outraged comment, in various social media groups, as well as on the aforementioned petition, dealers, collectors, academics and art crime researchers spoke out about objects being sold by Sadigh, which all too frequently, turned out to be nothing but cheap tourist tat.  Some items, shipped from Sadigh's gallery with Certificates of Authenticity and signed by the owner, even included translations of inscriptions, which, when presented to knowledgeable experts, have been proven to be fake and their translations problematic.  

Sumerian scholars complain that some artefacts listed as Sumerian, once depicted on the gallery's website, are not actually written in Sumerian, or anything that even resembles that ancient language.  Cuneiform scholars, in turn, reviewing cylinder seals, have reported that the writing on some suspect pieces is nothing short of nonsensical gibberish.  Others have reported that some Egyptian objects and their accompanying translations have simply been copied from authentic, published museum pieces.

With that said, by 2021, and at 60 years of age, it is no longer possible to believe that this antiquarian, who has been in the ancient art business for all of his adult life, can still be genuinely ignorant about the authenticity of the material culture he earns a well-paid livelihood from.  The very fact that Sadigh hasn't reconciled his business model after so many complaints, over so many years, and despite having to make repeated refunds to numerous dissatisfied collectors when objects prove to be inauthentic, suggests actionable negligence, not a beginners incompetence.  Or, if the state charges that the New York authorities have filed stick, a demonstratable intent to deceive and to actively and voluntarily commit fraud.

Based on their investigation and on a formal affidavit filed by Special Agent Christopher Rommeney with the Department of Homeland Security - Homeland Security Investigations, Judge Ruth Pickholz, of the Supreme Court of the State of New York authorised a search and seizure warrant on 30 July 2021, to be executed at Sadigh's New York gallery.  Shortly thereafter, a warrant for the arrest of Mehrdad Sadigh was signed on 4 August 2021 in reference to a nine-count indictment, filed by New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., charging him with:

  • One count of a Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Penal Law §190.65 (1)(b),
  • Two counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Penal Law §155.35(1)
  • Two counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, Penal Law  §170.25
  • Two Counts of Forgery in the Second Degree, Penal Law §170.10(1)
  • Two Counts of Criminal Simulation, Penal Law §170.45(2) and Conspiracy to commit the same crimes as defined under Penal Law 105.05(1)
Sadigh was arrested without incident and had his gallery searched on 6 August 2021.  Once on the premises, officers involved in executing the search warrant found what appears to be a fully functional fabrication studio, which appears to have been used to transform and age simple, modern-day replicas into "ancient" artefacts. 

In photos taken during that search, released by the District Attorney's Office in New York,  a series of statuettes are lined up ready for alteration.  One, I have enlarged and highlighted with an arrow showing its placement on the bottom shelf in Sadigh's work studio. 

Image Credit: District Attorney's Office New York - Manhattan

The object in the DA's photo closely resembles Item 54149 in Sadigh Gallery's Early Spring 2020 catalogue.   In the catalogue that object is listed as Ptolemaic, 305-30 BC Carved limestone Ruler, with cartouches on the side and the back pillar.  At the time the catalogue was published Mehrdad Sadigh was selling the doctored Carved limestone Ruler statuette on sale for $1,250.   Its regular list price was $2,500.

Image Credit: Sadigh Gallery's Early Spring 2020 catalogue

In another of the DA's photos, also taken in Sadigh's workrooms, we can see a series of plastic tubs, at least one of which appears to contain what looks to be very fine brown sand.  This tub sits directly beside a scan of Grumbacher spray varnish.  This type of sealant is generally used to protect artwork from environmental damage, not seal in dirt and grime.  Normally one tries to apply a final coat of varnish in spaces where airborne dust particles can be avoided.  This makes this can's proximity to the sand bins as well as a nearby sieve also containing a brown substance, and two darkened Q-tips all the more suspect.

Image Credit: District Attorney's Office New York - Manhattan

Add to that, law enforcement officers also took photos of panel saws, hack saws, a Dewalt air compressor (possibly used for painting), and what looks to be a bench grinder.  All of which were found in the shop of a man who has never professed to be an artisan, and who has never acted as an artefact's conservator, leaving little room for speculation as to what actually was going on in the back of the Sadigh house. 

Image Credit: District Attorney's Office New York - Manhattan

Adding further controversy is the sheer number of US Postal Service spec sized cartons and bins found throughout the workspace.  This gives some hint as to the potential volume of sales Sadigh Gallery may have had.  It also makes me wonder if this gallery owner might also be charged with federal Mail Fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1341.

Image Credit: District Attorney's Office New York - Manhattan

For now, Sadigh has been released on his own recognizance by the State authorities.  In granting his release pending trial, Judge Pickholz ordered Sadigh to surrender his passport and obtain a lawyer.  I think he is going to need one.  

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 19, 2021

No longer a teflon don, Raffaele Imperiale has been arrested in Dubai and is awaiting extradition

In October 2019 the US Drug Enforcement Administration sent documents to the Dutch police documenting a 2017 meeting between drug traffickers held at the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai.  Those in attendance at this convocation are believed to control one of the world's fifty largest drug cartels, holding a virtual monopoly over all Peruvian cocaine and controlling approximately one third of Europe's total cocaine trade. 

The men in attendance included:

  • Raffaele Imperiale, a convicted narco boss to the Camorra and a fugitive from justice on Italy's most wanted list since 2016, 
  • Ridouan Taghi, the alleged head of the Mocro Mafia, a Dutch-Moroccan criminal organisation, 
  • Daniel Kinahan, named in Dublin’s High Court as a senior fugure in the Kinahan cartel, a group involved in attempting to ship €35m of cocaine disguised as charcoal from South America Republic of Ireland in July,
  • and Edin Gačanin, a Bosnian drug trafficker who purportedly heads up the Balkan Tito and Dino Cartel which has a strong footprint in Dubai as well as the Netherlands.

On 19 December 2019 Ridouan Taghi was the first of the four to hear the clang of a cell door.  Expelled from the United Arab Emirates as an undesirable foreigner at the request of the authorities in Dubai, Taghi is currently being held at Nieuw Vosseveld, a maximum-security prison in Vught, as his court case proceeds in the Morengo trail. The Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security believe Taghi to be the head of a major cocaine smuggling operation and to have had a hand in at least 11 gangland-related murders as well as a series of attempted murders, one of which, the assassination of journalist Peter R. de Vries, may have been ordered after Taghi was already in custody.

Raffaele Imperiale's arrest, announced officially today, but which actually occurred on the 4th of August, should make Kinahan and Gačanin nervous. 

Imperiale was arrested by Dubai law enforcement authorities, as officers in the Emirates coordinated their actions with Italian investigations initiated by the Naples Public Prosecutor's Office and entrusted to the city's G.I.C.O. (Organized Crime Investigation Group), the Mobile Squad of the Naples Police Headquarters, the Central Services of the Guardia di Finanza and Italy's State Police.  Externally,  international judicial cooperation involved coordination with Italy's Ministry of Justice working closely with the International Police Cooperation Service, Interpol and Europol for the multi-nation police action.

A long term boss who came up in the drug trafficking trade working with the Naples-based Camorra-affiliated Amato-Pagano clan, Raffaele Imperiale, who has lived in Dubai since 2010, is known on ARCA's blog for having purchased two stolen Van Gogh paintings: View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884 - 1885, taken during a brazen nighttime theft at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on December 7, 2002.  

In 2016, as if to underscore his wealth, as well as his sense of impunity while sitting comfortable in Dubai, Imperiale wrote a six-page written statement/confession which he then sent from the UAE to Naples prosecutors, Vincenza Marra, Stefania Castaldi and Maurizio De Marco, along with the deputy prosecutor Filippo Beatrice and the prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate, Maria Vittoria De Simone.   In his lengthy missive, Imperiale implied that he had decided to collaborate with justice by agreeing to give up his "treasure" to the state and outlining various aspects of his organization's early involvement in the drug trade.  In an extract of that letter, Imperiale says:

In addition to giving up the location of the stolen paintings, Imperiale's property, which would later be confiscated, included thirteen terraced villas in Terracina, as well as twelve villas in Giugliano, five of which were, ironically, subleased out to NATO under a shell corporation.  In addition to the real estate, Imperiale jokingly added that he planned to leave the Italian state with a fleet of expensive cars: 

"to be allocated to law enforcement agencies for the fight against organized crime."  

While the stolen Van Goghs were successfully recovered in September 2016 in a villa occupied by Imperiale's parents in Castellamare di Stabia, it would be less than a year later, when the DEA had intel on the 2017 meeting held at the Dubai five-star hotel.  Imperiale was still in the business of underworld dealing and banked on the fact that no extradition treaty between Italy and the UAE had been entered into force. Despite his letter to the Italian prosecutors, he displayed no real intent at leaving behind a criminal career build on the multinational trade in illegal drugs.

If anything, with two of his Dubai-based cartel friends, Taghi and Kinahan, settling down in the country with him, Imperiale seemed to have upped his game in the gulf,  even as the Italian courts sentenced him in abstensia to 18 years behind bars for drug trafficking and money laundering [19 January 2017].

In April 2019, still on the lam in Dubai, Imperiale's sentence of 18 years in prison was reduced to less than half that, purportedly because of a miscalculation by the Italian sentencing judge, given that the fugitive don had "voluntarily" relinquished twenty million euros in assets (the value of the Van Goghs excluded).  

More recently, investigators have evidence that seems to show that Raffaele Imperiale had a business relationship with a brutal enforcer working for the Mocro Mafia in their brutal turf war; a Chilean criminal by the name of Richard Eduardo Riquelme Vega, who was arrested in Santiago in December 2017 after arriving from Dubai and extradited to the Netherlands.  Vega, known as "El Rico" (the rich one) is believed to be responsible for the beheading of Nabil Amzieb, whose severed head was left in front Café Fayrouz in Amsterdam in 2016.

Since then, Vega has been convicted of operating an assassination ring and laundering the proceeds of crime.  It was from "El Rico" Vega's phone that investigators extracted a video that showed the enforcer with Imperiale and Daniel Kinahan together in Dubai as well as a large number of encrypted messages between the South American and Ridouan, among others, in which there is said to have been communication about the liquidation of rivals. 

Gathering evidence in their investigation into Vega's role in the Mocro organisation, law enforcement officers were also able to retrieve encrypted messages between Vega and Imperiale.  In one conversation it is alleged that the pair discussed business in Amsterdam. In another, how to eliminate an inconvenient rival broker in Dubai.

In the meanwhile, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in criminal matters between the Government of the Italian Republic and the Government of the United Arab Emirates, done in Abu Dhabi on 16 September 2015 and the extradition treaty between the governments of Italy and the UAE, moved forward. Ultimately, and after ratification was authorized by law n. 125 of October11, 2018, the bilateral agreements entered into force on April 17, 2019.

For now, it's unclear if additional criminal charges will be filed against Imperiale in Italy, aside from the ones he has already been convicted and sentenced for.   It does seem likely, that as law enforcement compare evidence in connection to these mult-nation investigations that new charges, in addition to his previous Italian convictions, may likely be on Imperiale's horizon. 

Until then, today's press release, issued by the delegation of the Public Prosecutor of Naples, shows us that Imperiale's carefree life of drug and art crime has finally come to a halt, as the Italian Ministry of Justice has announced that it is finalizing the agreements to complete his extradition procedure.

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 15, 2021

Monet (almost) stolen and shots fired at the Zaans Museum in Zaandam, Netherlands.

Update: 16 August 2021:  14:00 CEST

The Zaans Museum has confirmed that the artwork targeted by thieves was 'De Voorzaan en de Westerhem, painted by Monet and is currently off display while it is being examined for damages.

Shots were fired by suspects fleeing on a stolen black motorcycle or scooter during an attempted theft of a Monet painting this morning at the Zaans Museum in Zaandam, Netherlands. 

During the incident, which occurred at around half-past ten, one culprit attempted to flee the museum carrying the painting from inside the museum.  Upon exiting with the artwork, a bystander attempted to halt the thief's progress by pulling on the robber as he mounted the back of a black motorbike being driven by an accomplice.  During the incident, shots were apparently fired but no one appears to have been injured.  Equally lucky, during the scuffle, the thief released the painting in order to quickly flee the scene. 

While the police have not yet arrested any suspects, their black get-away vehicle was found abandoned on the Zuiderweg in nearby Wijdewormer and will be examined for clues. 

De Voorzaan en de Westerhem, 1871 by Claude Monet 

In 2015 the Zaans Museum purchased 'De Voorzaan en de Westerhem, painted by Monet during the Franco-Prussian War. Monet arrived in Zaandam with his wife Camille Doncieux and their young son, Jean in June 1871 after having stayed in London for almost a year.   Once there he spent four months in Zaandam with his wife and child in 1871 and painting some 25 known paintings, as well as 6 sketches, mostly of the region's scenery and windmills, as well as boats sailing on the Zaan river.  

At the time of 'De Voorzaan en de Westerhem's purchase, the painting, was considered to be the most expensive artwork ever purchased by the Zaans, and was made possible with funds from Vereniging Rembrandt (thanks in part to its BankGiro Loterij Aankoopfonds and its Claude Monet Fund), the Municipality of Zaanstad, the Honig-Laan Fund, Dr. MJ van Toorn and L. Scholten Foundation,  Ir. PM Duyvisfonds, VSBfonds, Koninklijke Ahold, Jacob Heijn Holding BV, BredeNHofstichting, Rabobank Zaanstreek and Monet Foundation in Zaandam.

Only the third museum in the Netherlands to have a Monet produced in Zaandam in its collection. The others are in the Van Gogh Museum and at the Kröller-Müller.  For now, no information has been released by the museum, confirming if the Zanns' Monet was the target and whether the artwork removed from the museum suffered damage during its less than gentle handling by the would-be thieves. 

August 7, 2021

Sothebys, Inc. Fine Art Auctions Miami and Thut et al

On August 3, 2021, Sotheby's filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York against Frédéric Thut, Bettina Von Marnitz Thut, and Fine Art Auctions Miami (FAAM LLC).  Their suit alleges that in October 2016 Bettina Von Marnitz Thut consigned three pieces to the New York auction house, attributed to Swiss artist Diego Giacometti, (the brother of famed sculptor-painter Alberto Giacometti) who died in July 1985.  

Those pieces were:

In furtherance of their sale it is alleged that Bettina Von Marnitz Thut provided Sotheby's with three letters attesting to the objects' provenance; two of which were purportedly written by now-deceased individuals. The pieces were subsequently sold at a Sotheby's private sale on 15 November 2016, bringing a total sum of $1,135,000.

One of the provenance letters is purportedly from Pierre Matisse, the son of French artist Henri Émile Benoît Matisse.  Pierre Matisse was a French-American art dealer prior to his death in 1989. The second provenance letter is purportedly from James Lord, an acclaimed American memoirist and intimate of Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso.  A friend of many Paris-based artists, Lord's biographies provides us with a vivid picture of the artists and artistic movements in Montparnasse, Paris in the vibrant period after World War II.  The final letter is purportedly from French fashion designer, Serge Matta, a friend and enthusiastic collector of works by the artist Diego Giacometti. 

A review of FAAM's 27 October 2014 catalogue shows a provenance for all three artworks prior to their consignment to Sotheby's.  In this catalogue, the pieces are said to have been commissioned from Diego Giacometti for the decoration of Serge Matta's property at Milly la Foret.

On three more occasions in 2017, in October, March, and April, Bettina Von Marnitz Thut went on to consign three additional works attributed to Diego Giacometti to Sotheby's. 

In October, Applique au oiseau à Trois Branches, (ca. 1968); 
in March, Hanging Lantern (n.a.); 
and in April, La Promenade des Amis (ca. 1976). 

For each of these additional pieces Von Marntiz Thut used nearly identical provenance documents.  Like with the previous auction, the popular pieces quickly sold, bringing in a total of $1,171,000 combined.

But by December 2018, one of the unnamed purchasers of the Thut-Sotheby's Giacometti pieces began to doubts their authenticity, and retained the assistance of Denis Vincenot, a French inspector previously with the Service Regional de Police Judiciaire, who is a specialist in organized crime, art theft, and fraud.

Through his dogged pursuit of alleged traffickers in fake metal sculpture, Denis Vincenot is considered by many to be an authority on the bronze sculpture and furniture of Diego Giacometti and led a series of lengthy investigations into fake Giacometti’s in the early 1990s.  Through his efforts, the law enforcement investigator uncovered numerous replicas sold as authentic originals between 1986 and 1992.  Based on his knowledge and lengthy experience, Vincenot judged the Sotheby's buyer’s Giacomettis, purchased in two separate lots, to not be authentic works by the artist Diego Giacometti.  

Having received Vincenot's condemning opinion, the purchaser reached out to Sotheby's, who themselves hired a hand-writing expert to take a second look at the provided letters used to vet the original consignments.  Their expert, in turn came to the conclusion, as the 2021 Sotheby's lawsuit alleges, that the letters provided by Bettina von Marnitz were forgeries, "written by the same hand."

Having come to this conclusion, Sotheby’s in turn notified Frédéric and Bettina von Marnitz Thut of their findings in April 2019 and requested that they or FAAM reminburse them.   Having failed to accomplished this, the New York auction house filed suit in US Federal Court this month. 

But this pending litigation is not the first time FAAM or its owner Frédéric Thut has drawn unwanted attention.

In February 2013 FAAM almost auctioned a 2012 mural by the street artist Banksy depicting an urchin child at a sewing machine assembling a bunting of Union Jack patches.  This artwork, painted on the side wall of a Poundland store in Wood Green, London, was surreptitiously removed that same month, creating immediate outrage within the local community. 

"Slave Labor" by the Artist known as Banksy, 2012

Later, in September 2015 Frédéric Thut approached, André Cardenas, the son of famed Cuban sculptor Agustín Cárdenas to authenticate a substantial grouping of artworks purportedly by his father which Thut claimed had resurfaced in Cuba in the last year and which had been ammassed by the artist's sister-in-law.  André Cardenas had previously managed the authentications of his father's artworks at well-known auction houses including Sotheby's and Christie's.  Agustín Cárdenas died in Havana, Cuba in 2001 and is buried at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

After examining the works, André Cardenas questioned the validity of some of the offerings which were lacking in paperwork, as well as the claim that the artist's sister-in-law had been harboring these pieces.   Cardenas recommended that Frédéric Thut not go through with their sale. The questionable pieces were also discredited by members of the artist's family, including the artist's first wife, as well as a number of his longtime friends, both from Cuba and Paris, as well as other individuals, familiar with the artist's oeuvre.

FAAM Catalogue
November 2015
Despite this, in mid November 2015 FAAM decided to publish the entire Agustín Cárdenas collection, including the suspect pieces, in their sales catalogue in advance of their November 30th auction.  On the day of the auction, and despite the very loud objections by André Cardenas, who had arrived with his attorney, FAAM, proceeded to sell the contested pieces.  

Thut was later quoted regarding the Cardenas, pieces saying: