Spanish police are investigating four people for fraud after they allegedly tried to sell forged paintings for more than €76 million ($84 million), falsely claiming they were works by the masters Velazquez and Goya, according to authorities.
The four forged works, attributed to Francisco de Goya, and a fifth allegedly by Diego Velazquez were accompanied by abundant documentation, which was also fake and aimed at tricking potential buyers, the Valencia regional government said in a statement.
Police seized the forged artworks in the city of Valencia on Spain’s eastern Mediterranean coast at the same location, confiscating one painting on February 8 and the other four a few weeks later.
The suspects have been questioned by police but have not been arrested, the press office of the regional government’s justice department told CNN on Thursday.
The forged Velazquez, entitled “Portrait of Mariana of Austria,” carried the highest asking price of €50 million. The original is on exhibit at the Prado Museum in Madrid.
The investigation started earlier this year when police detected that sellers were trying to peddle the forgeries in Valencia and in the neighboring province of Castellon.
Leading Spanish art experts confirmed the paintings were forgeries.
Gabriela Bravo, head of the regional government’s justice department, said that art forgeries may be potentially lucrative, “but that the most important thing about this crime is that it devalues the work of our creative people, in this case, great painters in our history.”
Two of the forged paintings that the sellers offered as Goyas, for more than €7 million each, were actually copies of works by a different artist, Anton Rafael Mengs, whose originals are also in the Prado.
Another forgery attributed to Goya, “Allegory of the Pillar of Zaragoza,” for which the sellers asked €4 million, “was a work of very low quality and not even done by a professional painter,” according to authorities.
The final work, also falsely attributed to Goya, with an asking price of €8 million, “Blessing of Santa Rosa de Lima,” was a copy of a painting that was not actually a Goya, but instead appears to have been by an Italian painter in the 17th century.