German police said they arrested two people and raided 28 premises to bust an international ring that forged paintings and sold them as the work of Russian avant-garde artists including Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky.
Police officers in Wiesbaden, Mainz, Stuttgart, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne searched apartments, business premises, depots and art galleries and seized more than 1,000 items, a statement from the Federal Criminal Police Office said.
The forgers are suspected of selling more than 400 works since 2005, for prices ranging from 1,000 euros ($1,332) to more than 1 million euros, the police said. Searches were also carried out in Switzerland and Israel and the nationalities of suspects are Russian, Israeli and German-Tunisian, police said.
“These investigations are a successful blow to an internationally active forgery scene,” Joerg Ziercke, the president of the Federal Criminal Police Office, said in a statement. “Our close coordination with partners in Switzerland and Israel has allowed us to put a stop to these criminals.”
The two people arrested, who are 41 and 67 years old, are suspected to be the leaders of an international group of six forgers, police said, adding that they found suspected forgeries and sales documents in their apartments. The forgers copied the style of artists including Natalia Goncharova, Alexej Jawlensky and Mikhail Larionov and passed the paintings off as unknown works, the police said.
Most of the paintings were acquired by private collectors in Germany, the police said. The two people arrested may in the last two years alone have sold forged paintings for more than 2 million euros to collectors in Germany in Spain, police said.
In 2011, the German art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi was sentenced to six years in jail after he confessed to painting 14 works that he sold as masterpieces by Max Ernst, Max Pechstein, Fernand Leger and Heinrich Campendonk. Three accomplices were also sentenced.
Dealers and collectors said at the time that confidence in the German art market was shaken by the forgery scandal, described as the biggest ever in Germany, as art historians, museums and auction houses were duped by the fake pictures.
To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.