Italian painter arrested as investigations continue in Old Master forgery scandal

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Pasquale Frongia, the 65-year-old painter who investigators believe is the painter who executed a spectacular series of alleged Old Master forgeries, was jailed on Tuesday 27 June in his hometown of Emilia in northern Italy, according to local press reports.

A legal source in Paris says the arrest of Frongia, who goes by the nickname of ‘Lino’, follows a new European warrant issued by the French investigating judge Aude Burési. She first launched the warrant in 2019, but the court of Bologna, Italy, ruled that the charges against Frongia were inconsistent and decided against the painter’s transfer to France.

In December 2022, Giuliano Ruffini, the suspected mastermind behind the sale of numerous fakes for millions of euros, was brought from Emilia to Paris, where he was charged for gang fraud and money laundering.

Ruffini, 78, was granted €1m bail and placed under house arrest with electronic surveillance in Paris. His son Mathieu, who was interviewed by the investigators and the judge last May, was also charged with money laundering. He was authorised to go back to Emilia, with bail fixed at €200,000.

The three men have always denied any wrongdoing. Giuliano Ruffini says it was the experts, curators and dealers who attributed the paintings to great masters such as Brueghel, Cranach, Parmigianino, Frans Hals, Guido Reni or Bronzino—not him. He has also challenged the forensic expertise that concluded that the paintings are recent fakes.

Mathieu Ruffini has denied having any knowledge of his father’s business. However, according to legal files made public in Italy and France, the investigation shows that he made several transfers to Lino Frongia, including a $740,000 payment from a UBS Swiss account in 2007. Before the court of Bologna, Frongia said these were payments for sales and restorations he had undertaken for Giuliano Ruffini.

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