If you’re buying an antiquity from an art dealer with no website who tells you the work was most recently owned by a now-deceased collector, it may be worth doing a bit of extra research. On Tuesday, the FBI charged two New York antiquities dealers with defrauding buyers and brokers by fabricating false ownership histories full of dead “buyers.”
Erdal Dere, 50, and Faisal Khan, 47, were longtime business partners in Fortuna Fine Art, which has been housed at various locations on the Upper East Side of Manhattan over the years. According to a statement from the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, the duo was “engaged in a years-long scheme” to use false provenances to offer and sell antiquities. Dere is also charged with aggravated identity theft for misappropriating the identities of deceased collectors who he pretended were the works’ former owners.
Federal agents arrested Dere at his home in New York City, while Khan was arrested at his home in New Jersey. Both were scheduled to appear before US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn this afternoon. A representative for the court did not respond to a request for comment on the hearing; Khan and Dere could not be reached for comment.
According to the allegations in an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court, the scheme was underway from roughly 2015 to the present. The indictment notes that the gallery did not operate a website or list any inventory, and instead sold directly to buyers using falsified documents. According to a tweet from Chasing Aphrodite, a blog run by Los Angeles author Jason Felch, Fortuna and the Dere family have long had ties to Turkish smuggling networks. “The Getty repatriated a looted sarcophagus from them in 1983,” he wrote.” Several other cases followed.”
Among the people to whom Dere provided false records were “buyers and brokers” as well as an unidentified auction house in New York in connection with a December 2015 antiquities sale, according to authorities.
Khan allegedly assisted the gallery in finding buyers for the items and also acquired new ones, mostly in Asia, that were then sold via Fortuna both in the US and abroad.
Dere was charged with wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The wire fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years. Meanwhile, aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.
Khan was charged with wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud.
“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,” said Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement.
The FBI’s art crime division is asking anyone who may have dealt Faisal and Khan and could possibly be a victim to reach out.