Two New York-based antiquities dealers have been arrested for fraud, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
US authorities have charged Erdal Dere, the owner of the Manhattan-based antiquities gallery Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd, and his business partner Faisal Khan for engaging in a five-year fraud scheme to swindle buyers by using fake provenance records to sell antiquities, according to documents unsealed today in a New York court. Dere is also charged with aggravated identity theft for using details from dead collectors to falsify documents.
According to the indictment, from 2015 to now, Dere “fabricated false provenance documents by listing deceased collectors as the long-time owners of objects” they had never owned. The documents were then provided to buyers and brokers, including to an unnamed New York auction house in connection with a December 2015 antiquities sale.
With full knowledge of the falsified provenances, authorities claim, Khan allegedly assisted Dere in finding buyers for the works from Fortuna’s inventory and helped acquire new antiquities, primarily in Asia, also falsifying the provenance for these works and then selling them to buyers in the US and abroad.
“The integrity of the legitimate market in antiquities rests on the accuracy of the provenance provided by antiquities dealers, which prevents the sale of stolen and looted antiquities that lack any legitimate provenance,” the acting US Attorney Audrey Strauss says in a statement, adding that Dere and Khan “compromised that integrity, and defrauded buyers and brokers of the antiquities they sold, by fabricating the provenance of those antiquities, and concealing their true history”.
FBI agents were seen confiscating evidence in an apparent raid of Khan’s New Jersey home on Tuesday, according to a local news outlet. Neither Dere nor Khan could be reached for comment. Both were scheduled to appear before US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn this afternoon.
The dealers are facing two counts of wire fraud each, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years. Dere also faces a two-year prison sentence for one count of aggravated identity theft.
FBI assistant director William F. Sweeney Jr is asking anyone who has done business with Dere and Khan to contact the bureau as they may have been a victim of the fraud scheme.
“Antiquities and art allow us to see a piece of history from a world that existed hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years ago,” Sweeney says. “As alleged, the men who trafficked in fake documents and used dead people’s names to bolster their lies had no care for the precious items they sold and no regard for the people they defrauded.”
This is not the first time Fortuna has come under scrutiny for its business dealings. In 2018, the Manhattan district attorney's office issued a seizure warrant for an ancient Etruscan terracotta vessel, Hare Aryballos (c. 580-560 BC), due to concerns over its export licensing. In 1993, the FBI also reportedly confiscated fragments of a marble garland believed to have been smuggled from a Greco-Roman city of Aphrodisias in Turkey. Selim Dere, Erdal Dere's father and the co-founder of Fortuna, had purportedly been arrested and released by Turkish police for associations with a known smuggling ring before moving to the US.