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Fake-Art Scandal: Spain Agrees to Extradite Businessman to U.S.

A businessman accused of commissioning and selling $33 million in high-priced fake art can be extradited to face charges in the United States, Spain's National Court ruled Tuesday.

Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz is indicted in New York on federal charges of being part of a group that created fake art attributed to artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning — and selling it to Manhattan art galleries.

It could take months for him to be sent to the U.S. because he can appeal and Spain's government must also approve the extradition, said a court official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a rule preventing the official from being named.

Also charged in the U.S. is his brother, Jose Bergantinos Diaz, and Pei Shen Qian, the Chinese artist who allegedly painted the works from a home studio in the New York borough of Queens.

Jose Bergantinos Diaz began selling fake art with Qian in the late 1980s after he met the Chinese artist selling paintings on a street corner in lower Manhattan, according to the U.S. federal charges.

The indictment said his brother became part of the scheme in the 1990s, along with New York art dealer Glafira Rosales, who pleaded guilty in 2013 and said she arranged for sales proceeds to be transferred to Spanish banks.

Qian allegedly collected only hundreds or thousands of dollars each for the fakes and has since fled to China. His paintings were promoted as previously unknown works, eventually attracting more than $80 million from unsuspecting customers.

Tuesday's ruling did not affect Jose Bergantinos Diaz, who is being sought by U.S. authorities for extradition but has asked to be tried in Spain, the court official told The Associated Press.

A civil trial brought by clients who bought some of the paintings ended last week in New York with an undisclosed settlement.

Image: Domenico De Sole, a chairman of the board at Sotheby’s, gestures towards his fake Mark Rothko painting
Domenico De Sole, a chairman of the board at Sotheby’s, gestures towards his fake Mark Rothko painting during a civil trial in New York on Jan. 27. Elizabeth Williams / AP

The Knoedler & Company gallery closed in 2011 and had defended itself against claims resulting from $69.8 million in sales from the collection of bogus paintings, saying it was duped by the fakes.

The gallery's former director Ann Freedman paid nearly $300,000 for a fake drip painting attributed to abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock — even though the signature misspelled his surname as "Pollok," NBC New York reported from the civil trial earlier this month.

The trial focused on claims from Domenico De Sole, chairman of the board at Sotheby's auction house and a former Gucci CEO, who said the gallery refused to return $8.3 million he spent on a fake painting.