Spanish Court Approves Extradition for Alleged Mastermind of Knoedler Forgery Scam

He's a central figure in the $80 million forgery scheme.

A courtroom sketch of Domenico De Sole on the witness stand with the fake Rothko painting he bought from Knoedler gallery.
Photo: Elizabeth Williams, courtesy ILLUSTRATED COURTROOM.

In a long-awaited decision, Spain’s National Court has approved extradition on federal charges for art dealer Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, a central figure in New York’s high-profile Knoedler & Company forgery case.

Jesus, and his brother, Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, were indicted by the US Department of Justice and arrested in Spain in 2014. Jesus was reportedly detained in the city of Lugo, while Jose was arrested at a luxury hotel in Seville. Both were free on bail, and until today there had been no update on possible extradition to New York. According to one report, now that extradition of Jesus Angel has been approved, “the National Court will now have to decide whether or not to extradite Jose Carlos.”

The trial over an $8.3 million fake Rothko painting collectors Domenico and Eleanore De Sole bought from Knoedler gallery in 2004 took place over the course of two weeks at US District Court in Lower Manhattan. Ann Freedman, the former president and director of the gallery, settled out of court last week, along with the gallery.

Art dealer Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz and his brother were arrested in Southern Spain and charged in connection with the Knoedler forgery scandal. U.S. prosecutors are seeking their extradition to the U.S.

Art dealer Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz and his brother were arrested in Spain in 2014 and charged in connection with the Knoedler forgery scandal. 
Image: Rehs Galleries.

The brothers were charged for their role in bringing multiple forged paintings—said to be the work of famed Abstract Expressionists, but which were actually by the hand of an amateur painter in Queens—to Knoedler gallery.

The 43-page federal indictment laid out in detail how the brothers controlled bank accounts in Spain that received hundreds of thousands of dollars in international wire transfers linked to the sales of forged paintings. It also outlined how they subjected paintings to treatments intended to make the works appear older including heating the works with a blow dryer, staining them with tea, and buying old canvases at auction. They supplied these to the painter Pei-Shen Qian in Queens, who later fled to China.

The charges against them include money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the IRS. Experts familiar with the case say it is highly unlikely China would ever extradite one of its citizens to the US.

In September 2013, Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz’s longtime partner Long Island dealer Glafira Rosales pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering. She is awaiting sentencing and faces up to 99 years in prison; in addition, she was ordered to pay restitution.

Jason Hernandez, the former lead prosecutor in the criminal investigation, who is now a partner at Stearns Weaver in Miami, told artnet News: “It’s fitting that at the end of the Knoedler trial that Spain’s National Court ruled that [Bergantinos Diaz] will have to answer the charges in the indictment….  Today’s news demonstrates that governments around the world take art fraud seriously. “

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