вторник, 13 ноября 2012 г.

Antique business on spilt blood

There is the American Dream, and, probably, there is a European dream. But a classic new Russian dream is to quickly make so much money in Russia that you would need 10-15 suitcases to take it abroad where you would settle down with comfort, which is the second part of the dream. An apartment in New York worth a couple of million dollars would do for that matter. Such system of personal values ​​ divides all people into "rubbish" and "instruments" used to make the new Russian dream come true. But for an enriching conveyor to ​​work so long, so boldly, so right under the very noses of federal authorities who were turned into "instruments" is, in our opinion, too much even by the standards of the new Russia. The name of a major metropolitan art dealer Aleksandr Khochinsky, who worked for Bohema salon on Novy Arbat, was mentioned in the press in connection with the notorious case of the Preobrazhenskys.


 


In August 2008 Tver Court of Moscow convicted for fraud the Preobrazhenky couple, husband and wife who were the owners of the St. Petersburg gallery Russian Collection. According to the investigation and the trial, Tatiana and Igor sold to collector Valery Uzzhin a copy of a picture as if it was the original. He had already acquired more than 30 paintings worth $ 10 million from these dealers. Antique market experts said that those convicted were only the scapegoats, but the mastermind behind the production of fake paintings and them appearing in galleries of St. Petersburg and Moscow, remained free.


It was then that the press wrote about antiquarian Khochinsky. It is now clear that the number of those who suffered from his actions totals to several dozens, and the sums to tens of millions of dollars. In fact, the funds received from fraud are fully sufficient to implement the new Russian dream in terms of moving to London or New York. Details of frauds by Khochinsky began to be revealed right before the departure of the great antique fraudster.


 


He started as a church robber


Only Soviet law enforcement system managed to bring forward criminal charges against Aleksandr Khochinsky. It was the only agency the young dealer of shadow antique market failed to make his instrument in the 1980s. Corruption was not prevalent as it is now. In 1986 Khochinsky was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment.


Then the militia arrested a gang of 12 men who robbed traders in antiques and churches, and then sold the items stolen. Aleksandr Yakovlevich Khochinsky had two roles in the gang. He was a victims’ apartment spotter and a buyer of stolen items. The criminal turnover was hundreds of thousands of Soviet rubles, that is, even then Khochinsky was by no means a poor man and the scope of his criminal business was quite established.


The overall number of victims in the case was 13 people and the state, which owned the temples on paper. The investigation was led by Arkady Kramarev, a Leningrad policeman known for his strong principles. In the 1990s he became chief of St. Petersburg militia, and later became a member of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg. According to the investigator, Khochinsky wriggled under interrogation and confessed only those events where he was sure that his guilt would be proven.


“Khochinsky would not confess or he concealed part of the things. He admitted guilt only where the interrogators put pressure on him and said ‘I can not confess about all the 100%, I also need to leave at least 10% to myself’”, said Arkady Kramarev.


 


Nicholas II in fraudster’s hands


Khochinsky did not stay all the 9 years in prison. He was freed at the beginning of the 1990s. At first the Supreme Court shortened his prison sentence to 8 years, and then, when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, he was released on parole.


One of the first victims of the released Khochinsky was Leonid Rubinstein, a St. Petersburg connoisseur of antiques. Charismatic Aleksandr Khochinsky was able to literally hypnotize the collector, and he agreed to buy the painting “Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II” from the Kozhevnikovs couple, who agreed to exchange the large formal portrait for an apartment in St. Petersburg. At that time it was not yet known that the painting of 177 to 297 cm had been a masterpiece by the outstanding painter Ilya Repin. But the collector decided to take a chance and was right, because the examination at the Tretyakov Gallery in 1995 found that the picture had been painted exactly a century ago by the marvelous artist Repin, and was even present as an element of the interior on his later commonly known painting “The ceremonial meeting of the State Council on 7 May 1901”.


Khochinsky convinced the new owner of the picture to conclude a commission agreement with Alpha-Art auction house. Under the deal, Khochinsky’s reward was $ 50 000. But, using his charm he hoaxed the St. Petersburg collector into making a note on the margins of the agreement about the transition of ownership of the picture since otherwise, he said, in terms of formalities, it would be difficult to enter into a contract with the buyer.


This was how in 1996 the painting by Repin was put in storage at the Tretyakov Gallery, but with an unclearly defined status. And then, as eyewitnesses say, the canvas was allegedly sold for about 600 thousand dollars. The money from this deal, as assumed by the observers, the antique scammer got at SBS-Agro bank. However, Rubinstein saw no money from the deal, and the buyer could not take away the picture. Just after the transaction Khochinsky disappeared and was absent for 81 days. Later he told the court and the press that he had been kidnapped by unknown people and all the while was kept handcuffed to a radiator. Attackers demanded a ransom, but achieved nothing and the antique dealer was released. After three months of 'captivity', however, Khochinsky had fresh complexion.


Leonid Rubinstein was in for years of suing with Khochinsky, who at different times and in different places called himself a representative of various legal entities and antique shops including Alpha-Art auction house, Bohema salon, such legal firms as Prestige, Prayvest, and Antique-Art Alliance,  and Intel-Gratsiya gallery. In fact, the antique dealer was not officially employed in many of those; neither was he a member of many of the mentioned entities. Most often the companies were linked to him through his partner (Prayvest), Dobrovinsky, known in the capital as "a lawyer for kingpins", or with Khochinsky’s wife Tatiana Victorovna Kamyshnikova (Khochinskaya). However, when in the midst of the trials the victimized collector Leonid Rubinstein came to talk to the lawyer Dobrovinsky, he said he had nothing in common whatsoever with Khochinsky. He informed Rubinstein that a similar person was caught stealing and was fired without severance package.


In late 2000 the Tretyakov Gallery staff returned the masterpiece by Repin to its real owner, Rubinstein. In 2001 the collector sold the painting to Alrosa for several million dollars, and Alrosa gave the painting over to the Hermitage as a gift. Khochinsky continued his scams with antiques.


 


Good pay for copies


On 26 December 2001 St. Petersburg newspaper Iz Ruk v Ruki published on page 69 in section 639 "Art and Collectibles" the following advertisement: "Professionally made copies of paintings (oil, graphics, etc.) with all characteristic features (canvas, primer, paint, etc.) and particular artist’s techniques, wanted in any quantity, good pay. T. (095) 778-91-26. "


Funny, is not it? Why should someone buy copies of paintings by famous artists? A couple of paragraphs will make it clear. But before that one should know the following.


This phone number in 2001 was used by Aleksandr Yakovlevich Khochinsky, or at least it was this number that he stated as the phone number to contact him in Intel-Gratsiya Advertising Salon on 15 Novy Arbat. In particular, in autumn 2001 Intel-Gratsiya published in a special edition of The Russian jeweler magazine an ad with the name ANTIKVARIAT and with that very phone number.


It is a fact that the main problem of the antiques market is in the scope of fakes and copies that dishonest dealers sell as masterpieces of the masters. Most of the sensations accepted by the public as previously unknown works of great artists and jewelers are modern high-quality copies.


And a key that explains why Intel Gratsiya might need copies of masterpieces is the article "Antiques consumed in culture" about the tenth Antique Show that was held in Moscow. The article was published in the newspaper Kommersant on 6 March 2001 and read as follows: “... But among the exhibits of the Antique Show there are true sensations. For example, the great "Vertical axis" by Ilya Chashnik, the famous disciple of Malevich, exhibited by gallery Intel-Gratsiya, $ 150 million. If this is indeed Chashnik, the price they state is quite reasonable for such quality. The same gallery exhibited "Phryne at the Festival of Poseidon in Elevzine" by the academician Henry Semiradsky. It is a huge picture like the one in the Russian Musseum which in 1880 was bought for the Russian Museum for 32 thousand rubles, a record sum for those times.”


Chashnik or a copy? Siemiradzky or a fake? Such questions may come to mind of gullible buyers of these pictures.


 


Alice in Troubleland


Soon Aleksandr Khochinsky dragged other people in his scams. For instance, well-known Moscow antique market participants Mark Weinstein, a collector and Russobank board chairman, and Alisa Selezneva, a dealer (surname was changed). The outcome of all this was a criminal case which resulted in trial and conviction. However, Aleksandr Khochinsky fell on his feet thanks to his talent to transform law enforcement agencies into “instruments”.


In 2002 Alisa Selezneva had five paintings for sale that belong to different owners, and worth about $ 430 000. These paintings were “Mordovia. Peasant wives” by Konstantin Korovin, “Business visit” by V. Makovsky, "In the Park" by S. Sudeikin, "Summer in the province" by Kustodiev, and “Girl in the Garden” by Borisov-Musatov. Once Vitaly Tikhonov, a potential buyer whom she knew, came to her apartment.


Vitaly Tikhonov was the head of the nonprofit partnership Mutual Insurance Society.  He told the dealer that a banker (he was probably referring to Weinstein) was interested in the paintings and took them to sell. However, a few weeks later Alisa Selezneva realized that Tikhonov disappeared. Ht did not pick up the phone, did not show any intention to pay for the paintings, and Alisa began trying to figure out where the pictures went. It turned out that he had taken all the paintings to Aleksandr Khochinsky, through whom he was going to sell them to the head of Russobank, Mark Weinstein.


Khochinsky gave Tikhonov $ 50, 000 against the collateral of Selezneva’s paintings, but he told him to write the promissory note for $ 75, 000. Tikhonov needed the money for another deal, which, however, failed.  Tikhonov showed up and told the truth about the incident to Selezneva. Then they went to Khochinsky together to “buy out the debt”.


Alisa Selezneva told Rumafia that it happened during the Antique Show in Moscow in November 2002. At first the dealer loaned $ 38,000 from her colleagues, but Khochinsky refused to take only part of the amount due and asked to bring the entire debt totaling to $ 75 000 with the  interest. However, two weeks later he also refused to take the full amount, saying that the banks were closed and that he did not have a place to keep the money. Thus, the dealer could not buy the pictures back from Khochinsky. Later, the great antiquarian schemer offered Alisa Selezneva to buy them from him for $ 200 000, but she refused because she had no money, and she had already applied to law enforcement authorities with a claim about Tikhonov disappearing along with pictures.


Law enforcers initiated a criminal case over fraud the victims in which were the owners of the five stolen paintings and dealer Alsa Selezneva. The investigation lasted for quite a long time, but ultimately only Vitaly Tikhonov was charged with a criminal offence.


The aggravated parties and those present at the trial over Tikhonov saw clearly who organized this scam. After all, the pictures ended up in Khochinsky’s hands who told the investigators that he did not know about the real owners and the paintings to a person he did not know and whom it would be impossible to find. Though later he was ready to return the pictures, but for $ 200, 000. Aleksandr Khochinsky refused to answer unpleasant questions asked by law enforcers, referring to the 51st article of the Constitution, which allows not to testify against oneself and family members. Searches conducted in Khochinsky’s apartment and his country house gave no results as the police found no stolen valuables there.


Alisa Selezneva assumes that most likely Khochinsky offered to sell the pictures for $ 200, 000 dollars because Weinstein found out about the initiated a criminal case and the paintings announced to have been stolen, and called off the deal.


So what were the results of cooperation with the great antique scammer? The dealer Alisa Selezneva was left without five pictures, handed to her by the owners for sale, and with a debt to them of $ 400 000, which she is still paying off. Mediator Tikhonov was put on the wanted list and sentenced to five years in prison. But the art dealer Aleksandr Khochinsky as a result of this scheme, actually got pictures worth almost half a million dollars for $ 50 000 and, according to some sources, sold them in Israel for a sum he does not name. Law enforcers had nothing to incriminate him.


By the way, the police are still looking for the pictures. Therefore, in March 2011 Khochinsky offered Alisa Selezneva to file a claim to Khamovnichesky court to end police investigation. If Selezneva would do so, the antique dealer from Novy Arbat offered her a compensation of ten thousand dollars. She refused, of course. But it became clear why the court sentenced Tikhonov with such haste and in absentia. In fact, it was another step towards the legalization of stolen paintings.


 


St. Petersburg relapse


In February 2003 Mikhail Zvyagin, a St. Petersburg sculptor and art collector well-known all over the world, was cruelly robbed. According to the son of the sculptor Leonid Zvyagin, his father has been collecting antiques for a very long, in fact, all his life, and is a connoisseur of art. For the most part Zvyagin, Sr. tries to do business with reliable collectors of the older generation, but time has no mercy and new people appear on the market. Some pose as antique dealers, and other as wealthy businessmen, and when it comes to business they are ordinary robbers. One of such people came across with Mikhail Zvyagin.


When telling us about the robbery in the apartment and events prior to it, Zvyagin’s son mentioned a Moscow antique dealer Mark Pirotsky. Mark Pirotsky was mentioned in the case of Alisa Selezneva on the theft of five paintings as Aleksandr Khochinsky’s collaborator.


One evening in February the elderly sculptor was returning home. Several men were waiting for him at the entrance to the building. When Mikhail Zvyagin was passing by them, they hit him on the head and dragged him into the basement. There the robbers began to torture the old man (beating, standing with their feet on his fingers, choking) to figure out where in the apartment he kept money and valuables. Then the robbers took the keys from the apartment and began to take things away. They took only the most valuable items, as if they worked with an art dealer who knew what was worth stealing.


In particular, they stole paintings by Western European and Russian masters, Limoges enamels, bronze sculptures including ones of the early period of China, small figures carved in bone and much more. There were so many items stolen that the robbers apparently had to use a truck to take it all away.


It is noteworthy that, although the robbers spent a long time torturing the victim and taking things out from the apartment, none of the neighbors paid any attention to this. Most likely, the robbery was carefully planned. The robbers knew what to take, and, therefore, they got the information for an antiques market expert, who had been to the apartment of Mikhail Zvyagin.


The sculptor was alive only by a miracle. Police quickly found some of the stolen items in the antique shops of Moscow, but much is still on the wanted list. Petrograd district court of St. Petersburg convicted four robbers under the case, but the investigation has not established the customer and the tipster. The investigators have only a deja vu caused by the similarity of the two crimes.


Faux pa in Moscow


However, there were situations where the scheme did not work. Thus, Moscow antique market dealer Elena Veselova (the name has been changed at the request of the victim - Ed.) told us how in 2004 she almost lost a large canvas "Mast-Tree Grove" by Shishkin and Fedorov. The authenticity of the painting was confirmed by Galina Churakova, a renowned expert of the Tretyakov Gallery. Once the painting was put up for sale, Aleksandr Khochinsky came to see Veselova.


According to the dealer, Khochinsky said that he was ready to buy the work of art, but he asked to give the picture to him for another examination, “a fresher one”. Veselova decided not to take risks, and expert Galina Churakova reaffirmed the authenticity of the painting, but conducted the study directly in the apartment of the dealer. That is, Khochinsky failed to take the canvas away.


Soon Aleksandr Khochinsky phoned Veselova and said that her picture was allegedly in the list of objects of art stolen during the Chechen wars of the museum of the city of Grozny. Therefore, it was necessary to immediately bring the picture to the Ministry of Culture for examination.


Veselova took the picture to the ministry. But she was well-prepared for the visit as several experienced friends went with her; she also had a booklet with a list of all values ​​of the Grozny Museum. Of course, the list had no pictures by Shishkin-Fedorov. The brochure was presented to Khochinsky and the Ministry of Culture official responsible for the restoration of the museum. The official rudely asked Veselova to leave, and then had a long snappish conversion with Khochinsky who left the office disappointed and angry. So, Veselova, who proved to be alert, got her picture back on the same day. The dealer assumes that if she had given the painting to Khochinsky "for a check", most likely she would not have seen it again.


A Cruel Romance


The most recent confirmed scheme, the most striking in its details, is the stealing of Karl Bryullov ‘s "A Turkish Girl" from Nikolai Semionov, 73-year-old director of the Moscow Theater of Romance.


Here is how Nikolai Iosifovich Semionov told the story. The collection of paintings appeared in the family in 1945, when Semienov and his father went to Leningrad with a concert. The city was just recently released from the siege. Leningrad Dom Aktera cultural centre on Nevsky Prospekt held a gala dinner after the concert. Among guests at the dinner there were Arkady Raikin and Georgy Tovstonogov.


It was there that the Moscow artists met with the heirs of Skalinsky princes. They were going to emigrate to Europe to their parents, but they were not allowed to take the family values ​​abroad with them. That was why the Skalinskys were selling off their collection of paintings including paintings by Shishkin, Bryullov, and some European artists. Nikolai Semionov’s father borrowed money right at the party from fellow artists and purchased the entire collection. It took several years to pay off your debts.


Nikolai Semionov kept the collection at his home in Moscow and was not going to sell it. However, in early 2006 Nikolai Semionov urgently needed a large sum of money to repair the studio for his theater of romance. He talked to the antiquary Khochinsky, and he offered to buy a masterpiece from the collection, Bryullov's “A Turkish Girl”, for $ 500 000. Semionov had all the necessary papers confirming the authenticity of the paintings, and on 18 February he took the picture to the Salon Bohema on Novy Arbat.


In words, as said the victim, they agreed on half a million dollars and that Khochinsky only need a few days to find the money or the buyer. Khochinsky prepared a № 213 contract of commission for the painting of 18 February 2006 between Semionov and Bohema. However, when the elderly artist wanted to read the contract, Khochinsky knocked down a bottle which was on the table. A strange hissing liquid spilt on the table, and Khochinsky jumped away from the table. Nikolay Semionov had not time to do the same, and got an eye burn. As it turned out, it was sulfuric acid that spilt on the table, the vapours of which burned the man’s eyes. When Semionov asked why sulfuric acid was on the table, Khochinsky said that it was necessary for ridding of insects that can ruin the antiques.


Semionov lost clarity of vision, and according to him, he could not read the contract. Instead, he quickly signed the document and ran off to the clinic. Vision became clear again, but only a few days later. It was only then that Semionov discovered that his commission contract with Bohema contains a series of unfavorable conditions, and the picture price was stated at 7.5 million rubles. He rang up Khochinsky, then came to the salon on Novy Arbat. Khochinsky explained that the examination documentation presented to prove the authenticity of the painting was not good enough. And he needs to have an examination conducted at St. Petersburg Hermitage Museum, the more so because Bryullov painted several of these paintings. He asked Semionov to wait.


Then Khochinsky stopped responding to Semionov’s calls, and when the latter lost patience and came to the salon Bohema on Novy Arbat, Khochinsky said the new examination showed that the picture was just a copy, which had no artistic value. In this regard, Semionov had to pay Bohema $ ​​1500 for its services and the examination, after which he would get his “copy” back. He also said it was impossible to get it back at that time because it allegedly was kept in a deposit box.


Naturally, Nikolay Semionov went to the police. The famous artist, in his words, met there with General Viktor Vasiliev, deputy chief of the Moscow economic crime police. He sympathized with the victim and said he would quickly sort thing out with the villain and would make him either give the painting back, pay the money. But nothing happened, Khochinsky continued to demand money for the examination, and would not give the canvas back. And he still has not paid the money or returned the picture.


The elderly artist told his version of events with the picture. In his opinion, the masterpiece by Bryullov really went to Petersburg, where it was most likely used to paint a copy. Then the newly made copy was taken for examination at the Hermitage, where the check results showed that the painting was a copy and had no cultural value. And Bryullov’s masterpiece, stolen from Semionov, meanwhile could have been transported abroad backed by documents issued for the copy.


That is, the copy remained in Russia and indeed may be sooner or later returned to Semionov, and the real picture of the artist could go somewhere abroad with the documents proving it was only a copy. For example, to London. That is exactly where it was sold to some connoisseur of Russian art for its real price. Brilliant and easy.


Unfortunately, we failed to contact Aleksandr Yakovlevich Khochinsky to get comments on the material we have collected. It is rumoured that he has embodied his "new Russian dream."

Compromat.ru, November, 2009

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