A Hong Kong art collector and trader was tricked out of 1 million euros by conmen pretending to be art brokers, Apple Daily reported Wednesday.
The 35-year-old collector, surnamed Kwan, who operates a fine art gallery, put up a piece of work by Vincent Van Gogh for sale online in mid-May, valuing it at HK$500 million (US$64.5 million).
The painting is believed to have been created by Van Gogh on the Trinquetaille Bridge when he lived in Arles, France.
Kwan’s ad attracted three European conmen who claimed they could land him a buyer who would meet his asking price.
They emailed Kwan boasting of their connections and solicited a fee of 1 million euros (US$1.13 million) as their cut.
Kwan let one of the brokers into his home in Ho Man Tin.
In line with industry practice, brokers are allowed to check whether the seller has the necessary financial means to pay the agent’s fee.
Kwan let the broker count a stack of 2,000 500-euro notes.
Both parties wrapped up the cash in a sealed paper bag and signed on it. The cash was retained by Kwan.
A few days later, another broker came and asked to check whether Kwan had the financial means, and some paperwork authorizing the broker to sell the art piece was signed.
The same money-counting procedure was performed, but police believe the broker must have swapped the stack of cash with another package while Kwan was not paying attention.
Kwan’s suspicion grew Monday night as he could no longer get in touch with either broker.
He then discovered that the bag of cash sitting in his safe actually contained plain paper and called police.
Police sources said it is rare for tricks involving substituting paper for cash to be carried out in the world of big-ticket sales of fine art.
The conmen could come from a multinational crime syndicate, police said.
Images of the two brokers were captured on CCTV footage from Kwan’s building and neighboring streets.
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