Ely Sakhai, 52, owner of Art Collection and Exclusive Art, both near Union Square, was released on $1 million bail pending the hearing.
According to the complaint, Mr Sakhai bought paintings by artists such as Chagall and Renoir, and then allegedly made forgeries which he sold for millions of dollars, “falsely and deliberately misleading buyers into believing that the forgeries were authentic”. He would later sell the genuine paintings, typically at public auction, so pocketing the sale price twice.
The complaint cited one sale, of “La nappe mauve” by Chagall, which Mr Sakhai bought in 1992 at auction: he then purportedly sold a forgery to a Tokyo art dealer (along with a certificate of authenticity). He later sold the authentic version at auction, at Christie’s in London.
Another case concerned a forged Gauguin painting “Vase de fleurs (lilas)”, which Mr Sakhai sold to an Asian buyer. Years later, he put the genuine painting up for auction at Sotheby’s, in 2000. However, the forgery, which had been resold a number of times in the intervening period, was also sent for sale at Christie’s by its owner. The identical paintings appeared in both Sotheby’s and Christie’s catalogues in May 2000. Christie’s arranged for expert examination of the two works, and the painting at Christie’s was declared a forgery and withdrawn. Sotheby’s sold the authentic painting, paying Mr Sakhai $310,000 for the sale.
According to the prosecutor Mr Sakhai usually sold the forgeries in Japan. Mr Sakhai was caught after the owner of a genuine Paul Klee, “Palaste”, which he had bought at Sotheby’s for $190,000 in 2001, saw a bogus version appear at auction last year: it was, said the prosecution, a forgery made by Mr Sakhai in 2000.