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France

Paris police break up fake African art gang

Paris's Musée du Quai Branly, home to a collection of real African art
Paris's Musée du Quai Branly, home to a collection of real African art musée du quai Branly, photo Nicolas Borel

French police have uncovered one of the largest networks ever of fake African art in France. Twenty-two people were arrested and seven held in custody earlier this week after a six-month investigation.

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Suspects had conned people into buying counterfeit works of art, which they hadmade look antique.

The crooks used urine and cashewnut paste to give brand-new African wooden sculptures an antique look, selling them for around 100,000 euros a piece - well below the going rate for the real article.

They targeted tourists and art lovers, approaching them as they left chic art galleries in central paris.

According to Le Parisien daily, which revealed the scam, police seized 500 pieces, including Fang masks from Gabon and Punu statues, from a workshop in Paris's swish St Germain des Près district.

The operation had been going on for more than a year.

Bernard Dulon, a well-known local gallery owner and tribal art specialist, told the paper he was scandalised by the racism which the scam revealed.

The objects were sold by Africans to white Westerners and relied on people believing that Africans couldn't possibly know anything about art and that gallery owners were necessarily overcharging, he claimed.

The copies, moreover, were laughable, Dulon said.

French police took six months to dismantle the network, which is thought to be the largest of its kind ever found in France.

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