Chinese librarian stole artworks by the famed 20th century painter Qi Baishi
Beijing - Arab Today
A Chinese librarian stole 143 artworks from his own gallery and replaced them with his own fakes, he told a court -- only to find his works being substituted by other fraudsters.
For nearly eight years Xiao Yuan, chief librarian at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, substituted paintings and calligraphies with his own art and sold the originals, making almost 35 million yuan ($5.6 million), the court heard.
Works by 20th century painter Qi Baishi -- whose "Ode to the Motherland" fetched 72 million yuan ($11.4 million) at a Beijing auction in 2012 and is considered one of the world's highest valued artists -- were among those removed by Xiao.
Xiao also replaced "Rock and Birds" by 17th century painter Zhu Da, which was valued at 30 million yuan, the Information Times newspaper said Wednesday.
The fraudster sold 125 of the paintings at auction, while another 18 in his collection seized by police were valued at around 77 million yuan, prosecutors said.
But Xiao, 57, told the court that others were doing the same thing.
"During the investigation when the police showed me a picture of my copies, I realised that 10 years earlier someone had replaced it with their own copy, because their work was very poor," he said in footage of Tuesday's hearing posted online by the Guangzhou People’s Intermediate Court.
"I could see it wasn’t my own work, the standard was too bad," he added.
A spokesman at the Beijing branch of China Guardian Auctions confirmed to AFP that Xiao was one of its clients, but said it was "still verifying the details related to his case".
Police have previously closed museums in China for displaying fake exhibits.
The Lucheng museum in the northeastern province of Liaoning was closed last year after almost a third of the 8,000 items on display were discovered to be not genuine, state media said.
In 2013, a museum in the central province of Henan was found to have scores of fake exhibits, including a vase decorated with cartoon characters but described as a Qing dynasty artefact.
Pictures posted by the state-run China Radio International (CRI) showed the vase decorated with bright green cartoon animals, including a creature resembling a laughing squid.