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Lawsuit Claims Russian Art Dealer Sold Fake and Overpriced Art

Russian art dealer Anatoly Bekkerman and his New York gallery, ABA Gallery, are the target of a lawsuit by a Luxembourg-based company which claims the dealer participated in a scheme to defraud, by selling it forged art, among other things.

NEW YORK—Russian art dealer Anatoly Bekkerman and his New York gallery, ABA Gallery, are the target of a lawsuit by a Luxembourg-based company which claims the dealer participated in a scheme to defraud, by selling it forged art, among other things.

According to the complaint, at various times throughout 2007 and 2008 the plaintiff, identified only as Arthur Properties, located in Luxembourg, purchased 18 paintings from ABA Gallery through its “predecessor’s representative,” Ukraine-based Oleksandr Savchuk, for a total of $9.6 million.

These paintings, identified in detail in the suit, include works by Ivan Aivasovsky, Aleksandr Altman, Stephan Bakalovich, David Burliuk, Ivan Choultze, Natalia Goncharova, Konstantin Korovin, Mikhail Larionov and Ivan Shishkin, among other painters, ranging in price from $60,000 to $1 million apiece, with most priced in the six figures.

The complaint alleges that, in late 2006 and the first half of 2007, Bekkerman, assisted by others, “engaged in a multi-pronged and multi-faceted intensive campaign to defraud” Arthur Properties. The goal of the scheme, according to the claim, was to persuade Savchuk to purchase pieces that were represented as valuable works of art but “of which several were forgeries and others of substantially lesser value than Bekkerman had represented.”

Contacted at ABA?Gallery, Anatoly Bekkerman referred questions to his attorney, Malcolm Taub, who told ARTnewsletter: “The gallery and Mr. Bekkerman have full and complete certificates of authenticity by some of the great experts in the field,” regarding the forgery claim. “The paintings are absolutely correct,” he added.

Taub said the other issues raised in the complaint “related to valuation, are merely retaliatory. We have auction results and comparables for all of the works. The plaintiff negotiated prices and the sales took place over a period of years. They had people to consult with. The prices are correct.”

The complaint further alleges that Bekkerman enlisted several other people who, “knowingly or unknowingly,” helped facilitate the fraud. These people are identified as Bekkerman’s daughter, Sonya Bekkerman, who is senior vice president for Russian paintings at Sotheby’s in New York, as well as Michael and Sorina Abramovich, characterized as “wealthy former residents of Russia who reside in Paris,” and their daughter Regina Abramovich, who is a consultant of the private client group of Russian art at Sotheby’s.

The complaint alleges that Bekkerman’s “scheme” included communications intended to convince Arthur Properties of the dealer’s “credentials as a reputable and honest art dealer,” and that the works he was offering were “authentic paintings at a price that was consistent with their fair market value.”

After paying for and receiving the works, the plaintiff discovered that four of the works, for which the plaintiff paid $2.4 million, “were not authentic in their ownership, having been painted by persons other than as represented by Bekkerman,” the complaint states. These are specified in the complaint as works by Bakalovich and Genrikh Semiradsky as well as works by Aivasovksy and Goncharova. The suit says demands for the gallery to refund the purchase price have been rejected.

Of the remaining works, the complaint states that the market value had been “greatly misrepresented” at rates ranging from 20 percent to 80 percent per artwork. The suit claims the total amount by which the market value of the Russian paintings was “overstated by Bekkerman is approximately $4.1 million.”

New York-based attorney Oleg Rivkin, who is representing Arthur Properties, did not respond to a request for comment.

A Sotheby’s spokesperson, when asked to comment, provided ARTnewsletter with the following: “Mentioning Sotheby’s and its employees in this lawsuit appears to be gratuitous and without merit as this lawsuit seems to have nothing to do with Sotheby’s or its employees. Neither Sotheby’s nor its employees have been sued, and there is nothing in the complaint specifying any communications or conduct undertaken by them in relation to the allegations in the lawsuit, nor are we aware of any.”

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