Case against alleged art forgery ring collapses

The prosecution of Israeli art dealer and collector Itzhak Zarug and his business partner Moez Ben Hazaz for masterminding a forgery ring has faltered after testimonies from expert witnesses were unable to prove that the works in question were fake.

The pair were arrested in June 2013 after a German police raid seized 1,800 suspected forgeries in apartments and warehouses across the country. The hoard included works purportedly by Kazimir Malevich, Marc Chagall, and Wassili Kandinsky.

Zarug and Hazaz were accused of being the masterminds behind a cartel that made over £2m through the sale of forged works via their Wiesbaden-based gallery SNZ Galeries.

But after a five-year long investigation into the collection, involving more than 10 international experts, authorities were unable to produce sufficient evidence to prove that all the works were fake.

According to The Guardian, the prosecution could only prove the fraudulent sale of three faked pictures, said to be by Rodchenko and Lissitzky, which contained pigments that were only produced years after the works were allegedly made. The prosecution were also unable to find a third person to prove that the accused were acting as part of a wider criminal gang.

However, the pair did receive sentences for lesser charges of having knowingly sold forged pictures and for fabricating provenance. Their legal teams say that they will not serve time as they have already spent more than three years in detention while the investigation was underway.

Some experts fear the conclusion of this high-profile trial could now permanently undermine the law’s ability to crack down on fraud within the Russian avant-garde art market. The credibility of many of the experts has also been called into question. The dealer James Butterwick said: “In the case of Russian avant-garde art, the judgment of many academics is so distrusted that to have their approval on a work is the equivalent of consigning its authenticity to the ‘extremely doubtful category’.

Zarug said in a statement: “Issues of authenticity are rampant in the market for the Russian avant-garde, but it is no excuse for a witch-hunt.”

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