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Arrested: Spanish art swindler wanted by FBI

A Spanish art dealer who made world headlines through earning millions of dollars by allegedly producing and selling fake artworks by major artists has been arrested during Easter celebrations in southern Spain.

Arrested: Spanish art swindler wanted by FBI
Bergantiños is wanted for allegedly creating fake artworks by painters including Jackson Pollock, who created the artwork in this image. File photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP

Spanish entrepreneur José Carlos Bergantiños Díaz was arrested on Friday at a hotel in the Spanish city of Seville after months on the run, Spain's Interior Ministry reported.

Wanted for allegedly selling fake paintings by big name artists including Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, the Galician suffered a panic attack after being detained, and had to briefly hospitalized.

Bergantiños, from Galicia's Lugo province, is currently being held in Seville but is expected to be transferred to Madrid where he is expected to face extradition hearings.

He has already appeared before a judge in Seville, local Spanish daily Faro de Vigo reported on Monday. 

US federal prosecutors and the FBI believe the art expert and philanthropist and his girlfriend Glafira Rosales over 15 years ran an art scam that saw them rake in $80 million (€58 million) by selling off dozens of fake artworks by renowned artists.

Rosales pleaded guilty to participating to the scheme in 2013 and has been participating with authorities since that time, the New York Times reported.

The paintings sold by the pair were actually produced by a Chinese immigrant working out of a basement in the New York neighbourhood of Queens and aged artificially, US authorities said.

These pieces of art were then presented as genuine with the signatures of the famous artists also forged, authorities added.

Bergantiños is "an autodidact with a good nose (for art)," as well as being a "great escapist and storyteller", sources close to the man told Spain's ABC newspaper. 

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POLICE

Pensioner claims €15m Picasso was a gift

UPDATED: Italian police are trying to establish the true owner of a Picasso painting worth €15 million after confiscating it from a pensioner who says he was given it for free.

Pensioner claims €15m Picasso was a gift
Celebrated Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso. Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP

The Rome resident, a former frame-maker, told detectives he received the work in 1978 as a thank you gift for an act of kindness towards a recently bereaved customer.

A widower had come into his shop in a state of distress after breaking a photo frame in which he kept a picture of his lamented late wife. Touched, the frame-maker replaced the glass for free.

Two days later, the elderly customer returned to the workshop and presented him with the Picasso, without giving any indication of its value or artistic significance.

According to the frame-maker's story, it was only last year that he realized the 54 x 45cm oil on canvas could be a Picasso, police said.

The painting is a representation of a violin and a bottle of Bass beer which police experts have authenticated as a 1912 work by the Spanish artist, then at the height of his Cubist phase.

The police became interested in it last year when auction house Sotheby's, who had been instructed by the pensioner, attempted to secure a state authorizaton to export it with a declared estimated value of €1.4 million.

That triggered an investigation during which police were able to identify the work as corresponding to one mentioned in a 1961 edition of the Zervos, a catalogue of Picasso's work which is considered the definitive guide to the Spanish artist's prodigious output.

Bottles of Bass pale ale, which carried a distinctive red triangle on their classic labels, feature in over 40 Picasso paintings, mostly from his Cubist period.

The iconic British beer, once the most widely drunk in the world, also puts in an appearance in impressionist Edouard Manet's 1882 painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere.

Precious Roman marble 

The specialist police unit which deals with crimes related to art works and cultural artefacts unveiled two other significant seizures on Friday, including a Roman sculpture dating from the second or third century which has an estimated value of €8 million.

The marble was dug up during unauthorized excavations in Tarquinia, a town just to the north of Rome famed for its roots in the post-Roman Etruscan period.

Police seized it as part of an investigation into the gang behind the illegal digs who, they believe, were planning to drive the marble to Switzerland in order to find a buyer.

The sculpture features the Roman God Mithra killing a bull and was said to be almost perfectly preserved. There are thought to be only two other marbles of similar composition and quality in the world – one is in the British Museum and the other is houses in one of Vatican museums.

The third work recently recovered was another very valuable oil painting, a view of St Mark's square in Venice by noted Italian landscape painter Luca Carlevarius (1655-1731).

The work, which had been registered as stolen, was found following raids on the premises of a Milan art broker suspected of smuggling artworks to Switzerland with a view to selling them on to wealthy collectors in the United States.

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