Police break up art fraud ring; 160 paintings seized

Fake painting attributed to Picasso

The Czech police have charged three people with fraud and breach of copyright for trafficking in forged artworks. The criminal ring mainly commissioned copies of work by — or in the style of — celebrated Czech 19th and 20th century painters.

Police say fake paintings attributed to artists like Jan Zrzavy, Kristian Kodet and Vaclav Spala, which sold in auctions and in art galleries, earned the forgers millions of crowns.

The three suspects now in custody face up to 12 years in prison if found guilty.

Detective Vladimir Seda says the police have seized over 160 paintings, including 22 fake Zrzavys. They are now checking on the authenticity of dozens of works held in private collections and art galleries.

The authenticity of the most expensive painting ever to be auctioned off in the Czech Republic, a work attributed to the Czech artist Josef Sima that sold last year for 6.7 million crowns has not yet been determined, detective Seda says.

The criminal ring paid no more than 15,000 crowns for each copy, which were then sold for up to 40 times as much, the police say.

This is the second Czech art fraud ring to be broken up in recent months. Last autumn, five people were arrested for selling fake certificates of authenticity for forged works by Rubens, Cezanne and Gauguin.

That group was alleged to have sold 17 million crowns worth of paintings, and had fake certificates attesting to values of up to four times that amount.

See the Interior Ministry's webpage for more information (in Czech only)