On Tuesday, 6 September, the Paris Criminal Court convicted 38 of 49 defendants in a high-profile trial that opened in March over a complicated web of thefts within the l’Union des commissionnaires de l'Hôtel des Ventes (UCHV), the former art handlers’ union of the Hôtel Drouot in Paris. The group—popularly called the “cols rouges” for the red collars on their uniforms—held a monopoly on art handling at the auction house from 1860 until 2010. The UCHV, held in equal shares by its 110 members, was dissolved and fined €220,000 in the court’s decision.
Those found guilty were given prison sentences up to three years—half of which were suspended sentences—and fined up to €60,000. Three of the six commissaires-priseurs (auctioneers) on trial were convicted, and given up to 18 months suspended sentences and fines up to €25,000. Eleven defendants were acquitted.
A judicial inquiry into a system of thefts within the union was launched in May 2009, following an anonymous tip earlier that year that a member of the union was in possession of a stolen Gustave Courbet painting, and the high-profile trial opened in March. Three weeks of testimony revealed the inner workings of the UCHV, including a culture of relative impunity. Charges brought against the defendants included organised theft and receipt of stolen goods.
In a statement, Drouot said: "Since the UCHV case, Drouot has introduced all the measures required to guarantee increased security to users and those who love the auction room, and better access to its services."