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Finnish couple jailed over 13 mn euro art forgery scam
In total, investigators submitted over 220 canvases to experts at Finland's National Gallery for verification. Photo: State Art Museum Conservation.

HELSINKI (AFP).- The married owners of an art gallery in Finland were jailed on Thursday and ordered to pay 13 million euros for selling hundreds of forged artworks in a five-year scam.

Helsinki district court found that buyers and auction houses had been duped into buying counterfeited paintings bearing the signatures of some of Europe's best known artists, including Matisse, Renoir, Monet and Kandinsky.

Many other works purported to be by Russian artists from the romantic period, and the noted Finnish painters Helene Schjerfbeck and Albert Edelfeldt.

Gallery owners Kati Marjatta Karkkiainen, 46, and Reijo Pollari, 75, were each found guilty of 30 charges of aggravated fraud, and sentenced to four and five years' imprisonment respectively. A further eight people were also found guilty and sentenced to up to three years in jail.

Child's play
In total, investigators submitted over 220 canvases to experts at Finland's National Gallery for verification. The majority were found to be forged, and mostly the work of one man, Veli Seppa, a self-taught artist living in southern Finland, who was given a suspended sentence in a separate case in 2017.

The most expensive of the counterfeit works was "le Cirque", a painting bearing the signature of French modernist artist Fernand Leger, and which the couple sold for 2.2 million euros.

"The subject of the painting was in itself typical of Leger, who is considered a forerunner of pop-art. However the treatment of the subject was incredibly weak and the painting style was childish," the court said in its written judgement.

Convicted forger Veli Seppa admitted in court to painting and signing the work, saying he borrowed material from the library in order to familiarise himself with Leger's style. Seppa said he painted onto an old canvas dating from the 1950s, which he picked up from a fleamarket.

Most of the works have been confiscated but investigators said that some of the counterfeits are still in circulation.

© Agence France-Presse

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