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Hapless Brothers sold Fake Goya's Painting for fake money

Brothers once sold a fake Goya artwork for €1.5 million. They then discovered that they had been paid with fake money.

It’s been said that crime doesn’t pay, and this was especially true for two brothers from Spain who were aspiring con men.

The brothers tried to sell a counterfeit Goya artwork to an unsuspecting buyer in a failed scam that resembled an episode of White Collar gone wrong and were rewarded for their false painting with equally fake money.

The would-be sellers were two brothers from Girona, Catalonia, Spain, who bought a picture by Francisco de Goya in 2003 that they thought was real.

The painting was a portrait of Antonio Maria Esquivel, a Spanish artist. The picture, which measured 35 by 23 inches, arrived with a guarantee of authenticity, which the brothers trusted completely. This was their very first blunder.

Three years later, the picture was inspected by experts and determined to be a 19th-century counterfeit. A Girona court ruled that the brothers may keep the painting for the 20,000 euros they had put down on it rather than paying the full price agreed upon, which was 270,000 euros.

In 2014, the two men attempted to sell their forged artwork to a customer who was supposed to be a wealthy Arab Sheikh, using the same certificate of authenticity that had gotten them in. It was their second blunder.

The brothers sat on the picture for eight years before selling it for 4 million euros to an alleged Arab Sheikh in December 2014. According to, an Italian middleman who was part of the “Sheikh’s” entourage organized the purchase and was meant to meet them in Turin to hand over the 1.7 million Swiss franc down payment for the art before they traveled to Switzerland. The middleman demanded that the brothers pay him a commission of 300,000 euros out of their own pocket.

According to the Independent, the brothers traveled to Turin to meet with the middleman after borrowing 300,000 euros for the commission. It was their third blunder. He delivered them the painting payment, and they ran it through a computer to ensure it was genuine — but the middleman must have switched it out before they got in Switzerland.

When the brothers sought to deposit the money they’d been given into a bank in Geneva, they realized it was counterfeit – photocopies of real francs. The Sheikh and the intermediary had both vanished by the time this happened. So the unfortunate duo had a loan of 300,000 euros, which was the only real money they had.

Image 1: When the brothers tried to deposit the funds they’d been given into a bank in Geneva, they discovered that the money in their possession was counterfeit – photocopies of actual francs. Photo Credit:

To add insult to injury, the men were detained at the border by French customs agents as they were leaving Switzerland, and the counterfeit money was discovered. Customs alerted Spanish officials, claiming the brothers were attempting to bring in 1.7 million counterfeit francs.

When the brothers returned to their home country, they were imprisoned for attempted fraud, and the money was confiscated. The painting was discovered in the brother’s residence by police, and it was confiscated as well.

The alleged buyer and the Italian broker vanished, as did the only genuine money involved – the money used by the brothers to pay the broker’s commission.

Surprisingly, depending on who manufactured it, the quality of the work, and the significance of the artwork, certain art forgeries can be extremely valuable. Some forgeries, according to CBS News, can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Elmyr de Hory, a Hungarian forger, created numerous forgeries in the style of Modigliani.

He had trouble selling his own original works, but in the 1950s and 1960s, he was able to sell a lot of his forgeries. Some of his works are now worth tens of thousands of dollars.

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