Police in Brazil have arrested a gang of con artists on suspicion of scamming a member’s mother out of more than 709 million reais (£140 million) in art, cash, and jewellery. A phony clairvoyant was allegedly even employed to convince the alleged victim that her art collection was cursed.
The heist began in 2020 when the fraudsters were hired by Sabine Boghici to target her 82-year-old mother Geneviève Rose Marie Coll Boghici, widow of Brazil’s foremost art dealers and collectors Jean Boghici (1928-2015). Over the course of a year some sixteen paintings were stolen from the elderly victim, as well as several Rolex watches.
According to police, fake Candomblé spiritual workers claimed that the woman’s daughter was gravely ill and conned her out of hundred of thousands of pounds for bogus treatments. Soon the gang forced the widow into confinement and “began to take the artwork from the house, claiming that the painting was cursed with something negative, with negative energy that needed to be prayed over“.
The collection includes works by Alberto Guignard (1896-1962), Emeric Marcier (1916-1990), Rubens Gerchman (1942-2008), and Antônio Dias (1944-2018). Three of the stolen artworks were painted by the leading Brazilian modernist painter Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973), valued at a whopping $137.7 million (£116.4 million).
Brazilian police raided the beachside apartment of suspected criminal Gabriel Nicolau Traslaviña Hafliger in Ipanema following an investigation. In a video recorded during the raid, one police officer can be heard saying “well, well, well – look what we have here!” when the most valuable artwork was discovered underneath a bed – a spectacular 1929 oil painting by Amaral, called Sol Poente (Setting Sun).
“We concluded in the preliminary check that all the characteristics of the seized paintings are compatible with the authentic paintings,” added the police in a statement. Whilst some stolen paintings were hidden in the apartment, others had been sold to overseas buyers, with two finding their way to the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires in Argentina and three to an art gallery in São Paulo.
Police believe seven suspects were involved in the years-long crime and face charges of embezzlement, robbery, extortion, false imprisonment, and criminal association. Four people have been arrested so far, including the victim’s daughter.