Three people in the cities of Zaragoza and Tarragona have been arrested for trying to sell fake Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse drawings, El País reports. They have been charged with crimes against intellectual property and fraud after being csught by Spain’s Civil Guard.
The arrests are the culmination of Operación Mirones (Operation Voyeurs), which was launched in July 2014 to put an end to an art forgery ring. The investigation began during a routine check at the border control in Lleida, when the Civil Guard stopped an Andorran resident carrying a series of Miró drawings and their certificates of authenticity. The agents, who were immediately suspicious, asked experts to analyse the so-called famous artworks, which were later confirmed to be fake.
The handler of the forgeries was promptly put under surveillance. Police soon observed that he was making regular trips to Zaragoza, where he would meet with dealers and collectors and try to sell the forgeries as the real items. It was soon discovered that the suspect began storing the drawings at – ironically – a solicitors office where a relative worked in Tarragona, in order to avoid further searches at the Andorran border control.
As well as the Andorran handler, the Civil Guard arrested two other individuals, including a Zaragoza-based art dealer, who allegedly served as a middleman. According to ABC, the suspects were trying to sell the counterfeits for hundreds of thousands of euros.
During the operation to capture the perpetrators, nine artworks were seized in total: six attributed to Miró, two to Matisse, and one to Picasso. The operation has also prevented the sale of two fake lithographs attributed to Miró.
The arrests come amid a pronounced increase in art forgery cases in Spain. In April 2014, Spanish art dealer Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz and his partner were arrested in connection to the infamous Knoedler & Co. art forgery scandal. They stand accused of selling more than $33 million worth of forgeries attributed to Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell, among many others.