Art dealer and socialite jailed over theft linked to £1m sculpture

Art dealer and socialite jailed over theft linked to £1m sculpture
Gulbenkian used the ill-gotten money to fund her lavish” lifestyle, the court heard

An art dealer who stole more than £1 million to fund her “lavish” lifestyle has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Angela Gulbenkian, 40, fraudulently sold an 81kg (179lb) spotted yellow pumpkin by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama for £982,000 to Hong Kong-based arts company Art Incorporated Limited (AIL).

She also stole £50,000 from friend Jacqui Ball, who she promised to help invest in art.

The German socialite, who is married to the sports agent Duarte Gulbenkian – a member of a prominent arts family – used her name to convince her victims that she was a high-value arts broker and to “part with their money”, prosecutor David Markham said.

Gulbenkian, from Munich, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft totalling more than £1 million at London’s Southwark Crown Court, which heard how she spent the money on herself and her family.

She blew £218,000 on shopping, £121,000 on travel, bought luxury items, including a £25,000 Rolex watch and two art pieces worth £56,000, and hired a private charter jet.

Judge David Tomlinson jailed Gulbenkian for three-and-a-half years on Thursday, telling her: “Both counts on the indictment involve, in comparative terms, thefts of very large sums of money.”

He added: “Running through all of this criminality was a sustained obfuscation on your part.

“When AIL and Ms Ball separately tried to get you to deliver on your promise, your treatment of them prolonged the distress.”

Gulbenkian has already served the equivalent of a two-year sentence having been arrested in Lisbon under a European arrest warrant and remanded in HMP Bronzefield after being extradited to the UK in December 2020.

The court heard Gulbenkian was introduced to AIL in 2016 and claimed she was able to procure them the Kusama sculpture, entitled Yellow Pumpkin, whose owner is still unknown.

In May 2017, after the sale had been agreed, AIL transferred 1.275 million US dollars (around £982,000) to Gulbenkian‘s personal bank account, but the artwork was never delivered.

One of the owners of AIL, art adviser Mathieu Ticolat, gave evidence via video-link from his home in Hong Kong, telling the court he had been through “hell”.

“This industry is based on trust and I believed her because she said she was part of the Gulbenkian family. I was deceived,” he said.

“I’m not a billionaire, I’m an arts adviser and I’m still trying to recover.”

David Groome, defending, said that at the time of the theft, Gulbenkian‘s husband had stopped working for his family’s business, creating an “unimaginable rift” between him and his father.

The couple went from living a “lavish” lifestyle to having their home, which was owned by her father-in-law’s gas and oil company, sold from under their feet, Mr Groome said.

“Overnight, Ms Gulbenkian became the family’s only source of income,” he said.

“When she first became involved in the deal with the pumpkin she had honest intentions but when she received the money into her account the temptation was just too great and they began using the funds to pay for the kind of lifestyle that they enjoyed.”

He described the theft as a “dishonest borrowing” and said Gulbenkian hoped to repay the money if her husband and his father reconciled or if a “lucrative deal came her way”.

Mr Groome told the court she was just days away from closing a deal that would have netted her “the lion’s share of 2.5 million dollars” when she was held in Portugal.

But Crown Prosecution Service prosecutor Laura Hoon said: “Angela Gulbenkian used her status and powerful connections in the art dealing world to portray an air of legitimacy while carrying out her criminal activities.

“She stole thousands and concocted a web of lies for months on end.”

Gulbenkian befriended second victim Ms Ball after meeting her at a gym in Battersea, south London, where the victim was working as a personal trainer and sports massage therapist.

Ms Ball told Gulbenkian about her aspirations to buy a house and a car and the defendant offered to help her by investing her life savings in art.

She deposited £50,000 in January 2018 into Gulbenkian‘s account, which was spent within a year on travel, dining, shopping and art.

Gulbenkian repaid Ms Ball the money through her solicitor after the theft was reported to police.

Press Association

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