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Russian art historian cleared of fraud over forgery sale

Court finds Elena Basner made a mistake, but prosecutors say they will appeal

Elena Basner, a Russian art historian on trial for allegedly selling a forgery of Boris Grigoriev’s painting In the Restaurant (1913), was acquitted last week by a court in St Petersburg. The court ruled on 17 May that she had made a mistake as an art historian in her assessment of the painting, but had not committed a premeditated crime.

Andrei Vasilyev, a collector who ended up buying the forgery for $250,000, filed the suit against her. The original painting, called Paris Café, is in St Petersburg’s State Russian Museum, where Basner once worked. She went on to work on contract for Bukowskis auction house and had been outspoken about the problem of fakes on the market.

Basner, who spent a year under house arrest, denied any wrongdoing, and many in Russia’s art community, including Mikhail Piotrovsky, the general director of the State Hermitage Museum, came to her defence.

Prosecutors had been asking for a four-year sentence for Basner. In a statement release last week, investigators said they have new evidence against her and will appeal the verdict.