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CRIME

Spectacular art forgery trial begins in Cologne

One of the most audacious art forgery cases in German history went on trial in Cologne on Thursday, with four people accused of making €16 million euros from selling fake modern masterpieces.

Spectacular art forgery trial begins in Cologne
Photo: DPA

The two men and two women are charged with trading phony works by major modern German artists, including Max Pechstein, Max Ernst and Heinrich Campendonk.

“We are charging them with organized fraud and forging documents,” said senior public prosecutor Günther Feld.

The trial is expected to take at least 40 days, as the prosecution has reportedly called around 170 witnesses, including a number of prominent dealers and experts.

Experts say the forgeries are extremely high quality, as are the documents that authenticated them.

“They produced incredibly well-made paintings, including a complete provenance that took familial background and the historical art context into account,” said Henrik Hanscheid, head of Lempertz, a 150-year-old art dealership based in Cologne that was duped into selling some of the fakes.

The trial relates specifically to the sale of 14 forged works, all produced in the past decade, while 33 other potential forgeries are still being investigated.

One of the fake paintings was Heinrich Campendonk’s “Red Picture with Horses,” which was sold by a number of renowned auction houses and galleries before it was identified as a fake.

One expert, Werner Spies, who knew artist Max Ernst personally, incorrectly identified five of the forgeries as authentic. He is now being sued for damages by a French art dealer.

The accused include two granddaughters of Werner Jäger, a wealthy businessman who died in 1992, as well as one of their husbands and an associate. Many of the works they forged were presented as coming from Jäger’s extensive art collection.

The Local/bk

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GERMANY AND ISRAEL

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.

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