Spanish police smash Banksy fakes syndicate

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Police in Catalonia have claimed to have smashed a ring of scammers who allegedly forged works by street artist Banksy and sold them across Europe and the US for up to €1,500 (£1,280) apiece.

Officers arrested two people in the north-eastern Spanish city of Zaragoza where the fakes were allegedly made and two others suspected of having put the works on sale, Catalonia’s regional police force said in a statement.

Police suspect the ring sold at least 25 works made with spray paint on cardboard, in specialised shops, Barcelona auction houses and online to customers in Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, Spain and the US.

While the two people who made the copies of Banksy’s work mostly sold them at “reasonable prices no higher than 80 euros”, the two individuals with “knowledge of the art world” found ways to fetch much higher prices by passing them off as real. Together, the group’s swindle is believed to have gained more than €10,000, with some of their victims paying €1,500 for individual works.

The ring forged certificates claiming the works had been created by Banksy as part of his Dismaland project, a temporary exhibition that resembled a depressing theme park set up in 2015 in Weston-super-Mare, an English seaside town near Banksy’s home city of Bristol.

The exhibition, tagged as “the UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”, featured a decrepit fairytale castle in a moat of murky water and model boats on a pool full of refugees. The works sold by the scammers were accompanied by photocopied receipts for Dismaland tickets, designed to create an impression of authenticity.

Banksy, whose identity has never been revealed, has over the last 20 years risen from being a graffiti sprayer in Bristol to being one of the world’s most coveted living artists. Originally famous for his spray-paint murals in unexpected public places, his movable artworks generated a combined total of $184.7m (£144m) at auctions between 2004 and 2020.

His most expensive piece of work, Love is in the Bin, a half-shredded canvas of one of his previous creations, sold for £18.6m at auction in 2021.

In response to the growing circulation of fake Banksy artworks, the artist in 2009 set up a company, called Pest Control, to authenticate works bearing his name. Police in Catalonia said it worked with Pest Control to establish that the artworks and their certificates sold by the Zaragoza ring were fake.

Police said they started investigating in July last year after several similar Banksy works appeared on the market around the same time. In December, they uncovered the workshop in Zaragoza in December where two “young followers of Banksy’s urban art who had economic problems” created the works, the statement said.

The investigation remains open and police have not ruled out further arrests.

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