NEW YORK (AFP) - Three men were charged on Monday in New York in connection with a US$33 million (S$41 million) scam over two decades making and selling paintings purportedly by world-famous artists but which were in fact fakes.
Among the bogus works were pieces supposedly by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock and sold to unsuspecting collectors for tens of millions of dollars.
Among the trio was Chinese painter Pei Shen Qian, 75, who allegedly made the forgeries and is believed to have fled to China. Among other allegations, he is charged with lying to FBI agents investigating the fraud.
Brothers Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, 65, and Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, 58, were arrested last week in Spain, said federal prosecutors.
Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said: "Today's charges paint a picture of perpetual lies and greed. As alleged, the defendants tricked victims into paying more than US$33 million for worthless paintings which they fabricated in the names of world-famous artists.
"The Bergantinos Diaz brothers then laundered and hid their illegal proceeds overseas. With today's Indictment, the defendants must now answer for their alleged roles as modern masters of forgery and deceit."
The three men, along with Glafira Rosales, who has already pleaded guilty, carried out the scheme from the early 1990's through at least June 2009.
Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz first met Qian on a street corner in Manhattan, where Qian was selling paintings, prosecutors say, before bringing him into their ring to create the bogus master works.
Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz would buy up canvases of old paintings at flea markets, and stain newer canvases with tea bags, which he gave to Qian to create what has been dubbed "the Fake Works".
Among the bogus works were those purportedly by Rothko, Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell.