Parisian auctioneer Claude Aguttes has been banned from holding sales for two months following an investigation into the sale of a Russian painting at the Hôtel Drouot in October 2007.
His suspension is seen as a major
embarrassment to the Paris auction venue.
Aguttes was appointed president of the new
Drouot supervisory board last September and seen as the man to
create greater transparency following a major scandal involving
theft and corruption at the Drouot in 2009.
The Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (CVV),
the Government-appointed body which oversees the conduct of all
French auctioneers holding voluntary rather than court-order sales,
ruled that Aguttes had sold the painting, a 19th century landscape
with cows attributed to Ivan Shishkin, without exercising due
diligence in establishing the identity of the vendor, in
contravention of anti-money-laundering regulations.
A complaint from the buyer about the
authenticity of the picture is understood to have revealed a murky
trail of ownership involving a Luxembourg company represented by
Frédéric Thut. Thut was a close associate of Dan Coissard, the
expert in Russian paintings who collaborated with Aguttes on the
Some commentators have seen the disciplinary
action as a strong warning from the CVV as part of a crackdown on
money-laundering. Others point a finger at the totally unregulated
activities of the experts - dealers who specialise in
channelling business to auctioneers.
Claude Aguttes, 64, is a charismatic figure
who has developed a formidable auction business, starting in the
Auvergne before establishing major salerooms at Neuilly-sur-Seine
in the Paris suburbs and at Lyon in the south west. His total sales
were the fifth highest in France last year.
The timing of his suspension just before the
holiday period, when Parisians head en masse to the seaside and the
Hôtel Drouot is closed, means that his normal auction schedule will
not be affected.
However, he has had to act swiftly to save a
series of prestige sales planned to catch the wealthy holidaying in
Cannes from August 8 to 10. These will now be conducted by his son
Antoine, who is an auctioneer in his own right.
Aguttes is understood to have offered his resignation from the
Drouot council but it was not clear at the time of gong to press
whether it had been accepted.