Fakes upon fakes upon fakes.
Notorious for the prevalence of counterfeits and forgeries, China has only Nigeria as a distant rival for the title of the world’s scam factory.
Unlike Nigerian conmen, who seem to specialize in financial scams, Chinese fraudsters are far more inventive and audacious.
The urge to scam and the opportunity to do so appear to be so widespread in China that scammers are now piling on top of one another, unwittingly creating multiple generations of fakes.
Xiao Yuan, 57, a curator at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, thought he had reason to be pleased with himself.
He stole more than 140 paintings by Chinese masters from the university and replaced them with his own forgeries.
Xiao sold 125 of the exhibits for more than 34 million yuan (US$5.5 million).
He substituted fakes for famous works by masters including Zhu Da, Qi Baishi and Zhang Daqian for two years from 2004, BBC News reported.
In mitigation, he told Guangzhou People’s Intermediate Court, there were already fakes in the storeroom when he started work there.
But Xiao said he was surprised to find later that his own fakes were being stolen and replaced with further fakes.
“I realised someone else had replaced my paintings with their own, because I could clearly discern that their works were terribly bad,” he told the court.
Xiao said he did not know who had replaced his fakes but that students and professors could take out paintings in the same way they could borrow library books.
Between 2004 and 2011, he sold 125 paintings, using the proceeds to buy property and other artworks.
The 18 others he stole are estimated to be worth more than 70 million yuan, prosecutors said.
The stolen works included Rock and Birds by 17th-century painter and calligrapher Zhu Da.
Xiao, who left the university in 2010 when allegations were taken to the police, pleaded guilty to a corruption charge.
He will be sentenced later.
In 2012, China became the world’s largest market for art and antiques, the European Fine Art Foundation said.
No word on how many of the works sold could be proven to be authentic.
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