Spanish court agrees to extradite businessman to U.S. in fake art scheme

Feb. 17, 2016 at 9:00 AM
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MADRID, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- A Spanish court has agreed to extradite a businessman allegedly involved in selling $33 million in fake art to Manhattan galleries over the course of about 20 years.

Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz was indicted on federal charges in New York in 2014 for his role in a group that allegedly created bogus Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning paintings, then sold them to New York art galleries.

The National Court in Madrid agreed to extradite Bergantinos Diaz, 67, on counts including money laundering and wire fraud. He was arrested at a Madrid airport in 2014 with a detention order from a New York court.

The art scheme reportedly began in the 1980s when Bergantinos Diaz's brother, Jose Bergantinos Diaz, met street artist Pei Shen Qian, who allegedly painted the fakes from a home studio in the New York borough of Queens. He would eventually collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars each for his work.

Pei and Jose Bergantinos Diaz are also charged in the fake art ring. Pei has reportedly fled to China and Jose Bergantinos Diaz has asked to be tried in Spain.

According to the indictment, Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, along with New York art dealer Glafira Rosales, became involved in the scheme in the 1990s. Rosales pleaded guilty in 2013, admitting she arranged for proceeds from the sale of the fake paintings to be transferred to Spanish banks.

The indictment further charges Jose Bergantinos Diaz with hiding international bank accounts and millions of dollars in illicit income from the IRS, according to an FBI document released in 2014.

The Spanish court will have the final say on whether the extradition goes through, the Chicago Tribune reported.

A civil trial brought by some of the clients who purchased the paintings ended last week in New York with an undisclosed settlement.

The Knoedler & Company gallery, which closed in 2011, defended itself against allegations it sold the fake paintings to unsuspecting clients, raking in $69.8 million.

Former gallery director Ann Freedman purchased a fake drip painting attributed to Pollock for $300,000, even though the painter had misspelled the famous artist's surname as "Pollok" according to NBC New York, which covered the civil trial earlier this month.

Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz can appeal the indictment and Spain's government must also approve it, so the extradition could take months, according to a court official in Madrid who spoke to NBC on condition of anonymity.

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