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Painting probe leads to two-month sale ban for Aguttes

30 July 2012Written by ATG Reporter

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 2007 sale.

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. 

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