Art swindler quartet jailed for forgery scam

A German court sentenced a ring of four art forgers Thursday for copying Expressionist artworks by masters such as Max Ernst and Max Pechstein and selling them in a Europe-wide scam.

Art swindler quartet jailed for forgery scam
Photo: DPA

The two men and two women, all Germans including a married couple, admitted selling copies of 14 works for millions of euros in one of the largest schemes of its kind in recent decades, the court in the western city of Cologne said.

According to the German daily newspaper Bild, the quartet sold a fake Heinrich Campendonk painting to Hollywood comedian Steve Martin for €850,000 ($1.2 million), though the group’s biggest sale was another fake Campendonk that went for more than €3 million. Experts said the forged paintings, and their authentication documents, were extremely high quality.

The ring reportedly also swindled German billionaire Reinhold Würth, owner of a museum in Alsace, according to the paper.

Forger Wolfgang Beltracchi, 60, received the heaviest sentence of six years. Beltracchi told a Cologne court he had painted the pictures alone, relying on his cohorts – including his wife – to sell them to art experts, collectors and auction houses. Beltracchi said he learned painting as a teenager, when he helped his father forge fake Rembrandts and Picassos.

His wife Helene, 53, was jailed for four years. Her sister, Jeanette Spurzem, 54, was given a suspended sentence of a year and nine months.

The fourth member of the ring, Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, 68, was jailed for five years.

The defendants, who could have faced 10 years in prison for organized fraud and forging documents, were offered lighter sentences in exchange for full confessions.

AFP/The Local/emh

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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.