London art fraudster admits $86m swindle and 'did it for the money'

Mayfair art dealer Inigo Philbrick sold same pieces to multiple collectors including Middle East clients

A Mayfair art dealer who sold the same works to a number of collectors, including investors in the Arabian Gulf, has admitted to an $86 million fraud and told a court he "did it for the money".

Inigo Philbrick, 34, who ran galleries in London's upmarket Mayfair district and Miami, faces 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to fraud at a court in New York.

Many of Philbrick's clients did not receive the artworks for which they had paid big money.

As part of a plea bargain he agreed to forfeit more than $86m and two paintings – a 1998 untitled artwork by Christopher Wool and an untitled 2018 piece by Wade Guyton.

Described by US prosecutors as a "serial swindler", Philbrick had bid for works by famous artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Yayoi Kusama, before disappearing in late 2019 as his fraud began to unravel and collectors filed a series of lawsuits.

Prosecutors said he misrepresented the ownership of some artworks, selling 100 per cent ownership of the same paintings to a number collectors.

One lawsuit involved the MVCA in Riyadh, which was sold a Yayoi Kusama installation, All The Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins, when it allegedly already belonged to someone else.

Other works Philbrick traded fraudulently included a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, titled Humidity, and a 2012 painting by Rudolf Stingel depicting Pablo Picasso.

“Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who took advantage of the lack of transparency in the art market to defraud art collectors, investors and lenders of more than $86m to finance his art business and his lifestyle,” lawyer Damian Williams said.

When asked why he did it, Philbrick said: “For the money, your honour.”

His lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said: “While his actions were dishonest and criminal in nature, he’s part of an industry sick from top to bottom where this sort of behaviour is sadly commonplace.

“That being said, he apologises to his victims and will do all that he can to make them whole.”

Philbrick was arrested in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu in June 2020 and placed in custody in New York.

The son of a US art museum curator Harry Philbrick, he had been living in London and launched his art career more than a decade ago as an intern at the White Cube gallery in London.

He progressed to running his own Inigo Philbrick Gallery, one in Mayfair, London and another in Miami.

In addition to the criminal case, Philbrick still faces numerous lawsuits in the US from investors who paid millions for art they say they never received.

Updated: November 22nd 2021, 12:27 PM