Spanish kingpin behind huge art fraud to face trial in USA

Spain's top criminal court on Tuesday agreed to extradite to the United States a man suspected of helping to perpetrate one of the world's biggest art frauds over two decades.

Spanish kingpin behind huge art fraud to face trial in USA
The fraudster sold fake masterpieces such as Jackson Pollock. File Photo: AFP

Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz was allegedly involved in the sale of fake masterpieces purporting to be by artists like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock – works that were actually done by a Chinese painter he met on a Manhattan street corner.

US investigators say the Spaniard, his brother Jose Carlos – deemed a leading figure in the scam – and others sold the fake works of art to galleries in New York over two decades, grossing some $33 million (€29.6 million) in the process.

They then laundered the money and hid it overseas.

Spain's National Court said Bergantinos, 67, was wanted by US authorities for money-laundering and fraud.   

He was arrested in April 2014 in the northwestern Spanish city of Lugo, while his brother Jose Carlos was detained that same month at a luxury hotel in the southern city of Seville.

Both refused voluntary extradition and were ordered to surrender their passports and remain in Spain pending extradition hearings.   

US prosecutors said Jose Carlos would buy up canvases of old paintings at flea markets and stain newer canvases with tea bags, which he gave to Pei-Shen Qian, the Chinese painter, to create what have been dubbed “the Fake Works.”   

Among the bogus paintings were some purportedly by Rothko, Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell.   

In September 2013, Jose Carlos' girlfriend, Mexican-US art dealer Glafira Rosales, pleaded guilty before a US federal judge to selling counterfeit paintings to two of New York's top galleries.

Qian, meanwhile, is suspected of having fled to China.

The National Court will now have to decide whether or not to extradite Jose Carlos.

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Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

Spanish police have begun wearing body cameras to record their interactions with the public in a move aimed at ensuring greater security that is gaining ground in Europe and the US.

Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

The interior ministry said the bodycam was launched Monday and would be “rolled out on a gradual basis to all police officers”, without saying how many were involved in the initial stages.

Spain’s TVE public television said the tiny cameras were being attached to the officers’ uniforms and could be activated either manually or automatically.

The main Spanish police union JUPOL hailed the move on Twitter, saying it was in response to “a request that the union has been making”.

“It will guarantee security, both for us to avoid any kind of misrepresentation of our interventions, as well as for the public, who will be able to clearly see the police’s professionalism and that there is no abuse of power nor excesses,” union spokesman Pablo Pérez told TVE.

Forces in Europe and the United States are increasingly turning to such technology to boost transparency following a string of fatal shootings and other claims against police over the past decade.

“The cameras are being used under public safety protocols in order to record everything that happens in the event of an unwarranted offence during an operation,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska told TVE ahead of the rollout.

“If they are activated, it is to guarantee security and really be transparent so that the officers’ actions can be seen and checked,” the minister said.

“This means security for both the police and the public,” he added, suggesting that in time, they would also be available to Spain’s Guardia Civil rural police force.

France began trialling bodycams, known as “pedestrian cameras”, in 2013
before a gradual rollout in 2015 in a move welcomed by police, but greeted with scepticism by rights groups who said there was no guarantee they would be always activated.

Police in London and New York also began pilot schemes in 2014 with credit-card-sized cameras clipped onto their uniforms with the technology gradually deployed over the following years.

But the cameras have had mixed success. The absence of any legal obligation governing their use can also limit their scope to uncover police misconduct.