Ely Sakhai

From Academic Kids

Ely Sakhai (born 1952) is a US art dealer and suspected purveyor of forged art.

Ely Sakhai emigrated from Iran to USA 1965. He become a minor art dealer who owned The Art Collection, Inc. and Exclusive Art art galleries in lower Manhattan, New York City. Among other things, he sponsored the Ely Sakhai Torah Center.

In the 1980s Sakhai begun to visit auction houses regularly and purchased Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. Paintings included works of Marc Chagall (La Nappe Nauve, Le Roi David Dans le Paysage Vert, Les Maries au Bouquet de Fleurs), Paul Gauguin, Marie Laurencin (Jeune Fille la Mandoline), Monet (Le Mont Kolsas), Auguste Renoir (Jeune Femme S'Essuyant) and Pau Klee.

According to the FBI, behind the scenes, Sakhai was making forgeries. He bought only lesser-known works worth of no more than a few hundred thousand dollars. He had the painting copied, possibly in China, took the genuine certificate of authenticity and sold the copy. Months or years later he would sell also the original, which would be accepted without the certificate. He usually sold the forgeries to Asian collectors and real ones to New York and London galleries. Japanese collectors trusted the certificate and would not commission a European expert to authenticate a mediocre painting.

Sakhai would also buy relatively worthless paintings to reuse the canvas for new forgeries.

Asian art experts eventually became suspicious. Some of the European art galleries noticed that once they put some of the paintings up for auction, they noticed that someone in Japan already owned the painting. Suspicion begun to grow but Sakhai denied having anything to do with forgeries. He claimed that he often consigned paintings to other dealers which put them out of his control. Still, eventually FBI got interested and Sakhai heard about their inquiries about him.

In May 2000, both Christie's and Sotheby's realized they were both offering Paul Gauguin's Vase de Fleurs (also known as Lilas), both supposedly original. Both auction houses took the paintings to Gauguin expert Sylvie Crussard at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris. She confirmed that the Christie's painting was a forgery; Christie's had to withdraw their catalogue from the printers. They also informed the owners, Gallery Muse in Tokyo. The original painting was auctioned at Sotheby's and Ely Sakhai netted $310.000. However, FBI traced the source of the forgery to Sakhai as well.

Investigations revealed more suspicious deals. On March 9, 2000, the FBI arrested Sakhai at his gallery on Broadway and charged him with eight counts of wire and mail fraud. FBI estimate of his profits are $3.5 million. Sakhai was later released on bail.

On March 4, 2004, Sakhai was charged with eight counts of fraud. He was again released on bail. He may face 20 years in Prison.


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