The fake Goya painting and counterfeit $2 million in Swiss francs

Two Spanish conmen discovered last month that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and they are not the smartest among thieves. The two would-be con artist brothers found they had been spectacularly hoodwinked when banks refused to deposit the money they swindled from the sale of a counterfeit painting.

Brothers learn their newly purchased Goya painting is a fake

The brothers’ ill-fated saga began in 2003 when the two would-be fraudsters agreed to pay $300,000 for a Goya painting, a portrait of Spanish artist Antonio Maria Esquivel titled Portrait of don Antonio María Esquivel. At a little more than a quarter-million dollars, they knew the painting was valued much higher than the too-good-to-be-true asking price. They deposited $22,000 with the seller while awaiting the painting’s certificate of authenticity. Three years later, a Goya expert ruled the painting was a fake (the forgery was missing a “medal of honor” pinned on the subject’s chest). The brothers of course were not obligated to pay the remaining $278,000 to the seller but rather than writing off the $22,000 deposit, decided to find someone else to pawn the fake painting off on – and earn a much higher profit.

Enter the mysterious Italian art dealer

The brothers were introduced to a mysterious Italian middleman who dealt in underground sales of high-priced artwork.  The men paid the dealer around $250,000 dollars to commission the sale. The conmen borrowed the money from a friend with the agreement they would pay it back within a week plus $90,000 in interest. The art dealer searched for buyers and within a few days found a wealthy sheikh willing to pay $4.5 million for the Goya “original”. The sheikh met the dealer in Turin and laid down nearly $2 million which the brothers verified was legit using a “counterfeit detection machine”.

However, things did not turn out as the brothers expected. What the brothers did not know, was that the middleman switched the legitimate $2 million dollars in Swiss francs with counterfeit money before the brothers left for Switzerland (where they planned on depositing the money in a special account and moving on to live the good life). When the brothers arrived in Switzerland and attempted to deposit the money in a Geneva bank, they were told that the banknotes were counterfeit.  In fact, the “currency” was nothing more than poor photocopies.  Of course, the bank quickly notified the local authorities.

Brothers arrested

The police arrested the two brothers and charged them not only with attempting to pass counterfeit currency, but also with attempting to sell a counterfeit work of art. Police say the sheikh and middleman have gone underground and their whereabouts are unknown. The fake Goya painting, which was found hidden in one of the brother’s homes, has been confiscated by the authorities.


In the end, the failed con artist brothers found themselves out the $22,000 deposit they paid for the fake painting, $250,000 borrowed from the friend for the middleman dealer’s premium, $90,000 in interest promised to the friend for the loan, and the fake painting that started it all.

Sources: Art Net, La Neuva Espana News, The New Inquiry

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