Art & Antique Theft and Forgery Criminal Defence Lawyers

Global art and antiques sales amounted to over 50 billion dollars in 2020.

As in any market where high value assets are involved, there are those looking to exploit them for high profit margins.  The art and antiques industry is vulnerable to crimes such as the sale of stolen goods, fraud, forgeries and money laundering.

For anyone who finds themselves involved in such a case, we recommend that you contact our art forgery defence lawyers immediately if you are currently facing charges for any offence related to art or antiques.

Telling the difference between real art and fake art can be extremely tricky, and unsuspecting buyers and sellers might find themselves inadvertently embroiled in cases of art and antique fraud. For innocent traders, the appearance of the Art and Antiques Unit of the Met Police is likely to be a worrisome shock.

The specialist fraud and forgery lawyers at Draycott Browne understand how to approach cases of this nature no matter what the circumstances of the allegations are.

We are well-respected across the industry for our knowledge and expertise in this field, and are able to provide a first-class defence having successfully done so numerous clients facing charges related to art and antiques over the years.

We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with solicitors committed to providing first-class representation for every client. If you or somebody you know has been arrested and needs expert legal representation, call Draycott Browne today on +44 (0)161 266 7083

What is Art Fraud?

Generally, fraudulent offences are those which involve an allegation of having gained, or conspired to gain, an unfair commercial or financial advantage over a victim.

In the art and antiques world, art fraud typically manifests as the deliberate misrepresentation and dishonest selling of a piece of art or an antique. This could involve selling a purposefully feigned copy of a famous piece of art or antique as the real thing (for example, selling a copied piece of Monet's work as the real thing), or dishonestly presenting, and selling, an antique or piece of art as something that it is not. For instance, a 1955 Martin D-28 guitar would be an antique and could be sold as one. However, it would not make as much money in a sale as the 1955 Martin D-28 guitar that was played by Elvis Presley. If a seller realised this and decided to dishonestly state that the guitar they were selling was Elvis' guitar, this would be antiques related fraud: the seller would have behaved dishonestly by misrepresenting their antique as an antique of higher value.

What is art forgery?

When you think of art fraud, the first thing that is likely to come to mind is art forgery - the process of copying a genuine piece of art and dishonestly selling the copy on as the 'real thing'. However, forgery does not always constitute outright counterfeiting; forgery can range from the misrepresentation of a genuine work (for instance, saying that a genuine painting from the 17th century is a painting by a particular artist to increase its value), to knowingly selling a counterfeit artwork or antique as the real thing to an unsuspecting buyer.

Can the seller be a victim of art or antique forgery or fraud?

It is well known that the art and antique market is flooded with fakes and forgeries, and this can leave genuinely unsuspecting sellers at risk of becoming not only victims of art fraud, but also accidental perpetrators of it if they sell an item on. If you have been charged with art or antique fraud or forgery after selling on an item that you were unaware was fraudulently produced, contact our art forgery and fraud defence lawyers today. We will work with you to examine the unfortunate circumstances that led up to the charge and produce a defence that highlights your experiences as a victim of fraud in your own right.

How are cases handled?

Depending on the nature of the case in question, the defendant could be charged under either the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act, or the Fraud Act 2006 (in which case, they would be prosecuted for fraud under false representation).

What is the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Act?

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations have replaced the former Trade Description Acts. They place a legal obligation on sellers to treat their customers fairly and honestly and mean that sellers must be as transparent as possible to prevent their customers from being unfairly deceived. Under the terms of this Act, sellers can be prosecuted if it is decided that they failed to specifically mention something about the authenticity or condition of an item that, if it had been revealed to the buyer, would likely have stopped the sale from going ahead. In this way, charges can be levied even if the seller did not mean to deceive their buyer.

For example, imagine a case of a seller entering a gallery and finding, placed amongst a group of original paintings, a reproduced piece of art that had not been labelled. The seller had not stated whether it was an original or a reproduction but, because of its proximity to original paintings, the buyer assumed that it was an original, picked it up, and bought it. Later, after realising that it was a reproduction, the seller had the buyer charged under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act. Although the seller did not explicitly deceive the customer, the jury could argue that by putting the painting where they did, they did not take enough steps to prevent their customers from being deceived. The maximum sentence for a Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Offence is two years.

What is fraud by false representation?

Some cases of art and antique fraud and forgery can be charged under the Fraud Act. In such cases, defendants would be charged with fraud by false representation. The potential length of imprisonment for individuals charged with fraud is 10 years - significantly longer than for those charged under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act - however, it is much harder to prove, since the person charged has to be proven to have behaved deceitfully. In short, the following elements have to be proven for the charge to be successful:

  • A statement (known as a representation statement) must have been made by the defendant
  • The defendant must have known that the statement they were making was false
  • The statement must, therefore, have been made dishonestly
  • The statement must have been made to enable the defendant to gain something

In cases of arts and antiques fraud involving a buyer and a seller, the prosecution has to prove that the seller was purposefully dishonest. If we revisit the example above, then, the seller would not be guilty of overt fraud since it would not be possible to prove that they had behaved dishonestly. In such cases, a certain degree of 'buyer awareness' would apply and, in this instance, it would be questioned why the seller did not ask the buyer to clarify what the painting was.

If you have been charged with fraud, it may be possible to reject the charge completely, or have it downgraded to a charge under The Consumer Protection Act, if it can be proven that you did not behave purposefully dishonestly, perhaps because you had been deceived yourself and were therefore not aware that you were handling forged or faked goods. Charges of fraud are extremely serious, and it is therefore imperative that you discuss your case as soon as possible with a specially trained art and antiques fraud solicitor.

What happens to those who make the forged works?

Both the sellers and makers of fraudulent works of art and antiques can be charged. As well as the two charges mentioned above, those involved in creating works may be charged with conspiracy to defraud if it can be shown that an agreement was made between the seller and the makers to dishonestly sell feigned works as genuine goods (see more on conspiracy to defraud here). Although reproducing items for the purposes of making a fraudulent sale is illegal, reproducing items for personal use or ownership is not illegal.

What is auction fraud?

Fraudulent behaviour at auctions is common, and it can lead to people being investigated for it even if they are innocent. If you or someone you know has been accused of behaving fraudulently at an auction, contact us today to seek advice from one of our experienced art and antique fraud lawyers.

What is shill bidding?

Shill bidding is one of the most common types of auction fraud. It involves a seller placing a 'shill' in the auction house who bids on their art and antiques for them. The purpose of this is usually to drive the bids up at the very beginning of the auction, so that the overall end price is higher than what it would naturally have been. For a prosecution to be made, it needs to be shown that there was a link between the shill and the seller. Offences can be charged under either the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Relations (if the purchaser represents a business) or the Consumer Protections from Unfair Trading Regulations (if the purchaser is a consumer). Charges of conspiracy to defraud can also be levied, particularly if the operation is significantly complex.

What is a bidding ring?

Auction bidding rings are an illegal practice in which groups of dealers work together and agree not to bid on particular items within the auction. Instead, they nominate one person from within their 'ring' to attend and win the item. The lack of bidders in the room has the effect of driving the price of the items down, since fewer people are in the room to bid. Bidding rings are particularly prevalent in specialist markets, such as those related to particular periods of art and antiques, where the dealer community is small anyway, and missing members will make a big difference to the price.

If you have been charged with being involved in a 'shill' bidding system, or in an art or antique focused bidding ring, it is important that you obtain legal advice as soon as possible. While 'shill' bidders and rings are more likely to occur in conventional, face-to-face auctions, fraudulent activity can occur online. If you have been dealing in art or antiques and have been accused of behaving fraudulently at an auction, we can help.

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If you are charged, or believe you will be charged with an offence related to art or antiques, including auction fraud and money laundering, contact our experienced team here at Draycott Browne to make sure you mount the strongest defence possible. 

By entrusting your case to us, you can be assured that you will have a team of highly experienced and tenacious legal specialists who have a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of this area of law.

As one of the UK's leading Criminal Defence Law Firms, we are highly regarded nationally across the legal profession and noted for consistently delivering positive results for our clients.

Our expert Art Fraud, Theft & Forgery Solicitors regularly act for clients in Manchester, Preston, Blackpool, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, and London. As recognised Criminal Lawyers we can represent you wherever you live in England and Wales.

Our legal team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you or somebody you know has been arrested and needs expert legal representation, contact Draycott Browne today.

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