Singapore

Businessman sues art gallery for selling fake pieces

Father and son duo spent more than $700k over fakes assessed to worth just $12K

Believing they were investing in valuable art pieces, a Malaysian in the construction business and his father bought 13 paintings, supposedly the works of renowned Indonesian artists, for over $2.8 million.

The paintings turned out to be imitations worth only a fraction of what they paid.

Seven of the 13 paintings, bought from the Singapore-based Dahlia Gallery, were assessed by an expert to be fakes worth at most US$9,131 (S$12,300).

Mr Denis Latimer, 52, and his father Paul, 74, had paid more than $700,000 for them.

The Latimers have sued the gallery, its owners Mr Koh Hwee Khoon and Ms Pang Sau Mei, as well as Mr Quah Beng Hoe, a Malaysian collector who sold them the other six paintings for $2.1m.

Their case against the gallery and its owners for fraud, negligence and breach of contract opened in the High Court yesterday.

The case against Mr Quah is pending.

Their lawyer Avinash Pradhan said in his opening statement that the younger Mr Latimer was "duped" into buying the paintings by the fraudulent representations of Mr Koh. Ms Pang is accused of negligence.

In October 2011, Mr Latimer chanced across Dahlia's exhibition booth at the Art Expo Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. Two paintings caught the eye of his companion, Mr C. J. Thomas, who had been helping him build an art collection. The two men, who have no experience in Indonesian art, said they believed Mr Koh when he said the works were authentic and valuable.

Mr Latimer bought the two paintings for US$100,000.

After the Art Expo, Ms Pang sent Mr Latimer and Mr Thomas photos of three more paintings. Mr Latimer bought the three paintings for $300,000 in December 2011.

In March 2012, he was assured that the gallery could remarket the paintings at an estimated profit of at least $100,000, though he was advised to keep one of them as its value "will definitely increase".

He bought two more paintings for $270,000 that month.

Mr Latimer said that after the third deal, Mr Koh revealed that the paintings were from Mr Quah's collection. Subsequently, Mr Latimer dealt with Mr Quah in buying the rest of the paintings.

However, Mr Koh has categorically denied ever telling Mr Latimer that Mr Quah was the collector.

He contended that he had told Mr Latimer he did not have any documents relating to the paintings and left it to Mr Latimer to decide whether he wanted to buy the paintings. The trial continues.

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