Singapore: Father- son duo sues art gallery owners for fraud

The art gallery owners were taken to the High Court after allegedly selling the businessman fakes at least thrice. .

Art gallery
Picture for representation. Reuters

A Malaysian businessman and his father were duped into buying original art pieces, which were supposedly by a noteworthy Indonesian artist, for over $2.8 million, only to discover later that the paintings were fake.

Seven of those paintings which were bought from the Singapore-based Dahlia Gallery were assessed by experts and deemed fakes, worth US $9,131 ( S $12,300) at the most. The father-son duo sued the gallery and its owners, Koh Hwee Khoon and Pang Sau Mei, as well as Quah Benh Hoe, a Malaysian collector who sold them the other six paintings.

On September 18, a case was lodged against the gallery in the high court for negligence, fraud and breach of contract. The case against Quah is still outstanding. It was the son who made the decision to buy the paintings, but it was the father who is named as a plaintiff as he had paid for some of them. The lawyer for the plaintiffs said in his opening statement that the son was duped into buying these unoriginal copies by the owners of the gallery.

The Latimers started building the art collection in October 2011, when the son stumbled upon the Dahlia Art gallery exhibition in Malaysia, where two paintings caught the eye of his companion. The owner, Koh Hwee Khoon, described the paintings as Balinese Women At Sanur Cottage by Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur and Prayer, 1971 by S. Sudjojono. Having no knowledge in Indonesia art, the two men believed Koh and took his word for it, after which the paintings were bought for US$100,000.

Later in December 2011, Pang sent the two men pictures of three more paintings which seemed authentic as well, with an original stamp. Latimer bought the three paintings for $300,000.

In March 2012, he was assured that the gallery could remarket the paintings at an estimated profit of at least $100,000, but he was advised not to sell because the value of the painting would increase. He bought two more paintings, including Rojak Seller by Lee Man Fong, for $270,000 that month.

It was after the third deal that Koh revealed to Latimer that all these paintings were from the art collector, Quah's collection. This led to Latimer directly buying the paintings from Quah.

Although Koh continues to deny this, he also said he told Latimer that he never had any original documents relating to the paintings and left it to Latimer's discretion.

Latimer strongly disagrees with Koh's word, as the trial moves forward.