Spanish Police Shut Down a Crime Ring Accused of Selling Fake Banksy Artworks

The suspects allegedly recreated the famous street artist’s work using spray paint and cardboard to rake in over $10,000

Stencils for fake Banksy
Two of the suspects allegedly had “knowledge of the art world” and created fake certificates of authenticity to accompany the forged artworks. Mossos d'Esquadra

Spanish police have busted a forgery ring for allegedly selling fake Banksy artworks. Operating out of an apartment in the northeastern Spanish city of Zaragoza, the fraudsters sold at least 25 pieces for up to €1,500 (about $1,600) each across Europe and the United States, according to a translated statement from authorities in Catalonia.

The scammers had claimed the works were from Banksy’s Dismaland, an elaborate theme park and art installation that opened in the English town of Weston-super-Mare for a few months in 2015. Billed as a “bemusement park,” the project was a “dystopian take on Disney theme parks, featuring a dilapidated pink castle as the centerpiece,” as Smithsonian magazine’s Danny Lewis wrote.

The perpetrators created their forgeries on pieces of cardboard using spray paint and stencils. These works then appeared online and at auction houses and antique shops. In total, authorities suspect the crime ring generated over €10,000 (nearly $11,000).

The investigation began last July, when authorities noticed that several similar Banksy artworks had appeared on the market simultaneously. In December, they raided the workshop in Zaragoza and seized nine artworks, reports Reuters.

Four people have been charged with fraud and intellectual property offenses. Police say two of the suspects were dealing with “financial problems” and were selling the forged works at “reasonable prices no higher than €80 [about $87].” Two additional suspects, however, sold the art for much higher prices, using their “knowledge of the art world” to create fake authentication seals and stickers.

Banksy’s art is famous for fetching impressive sums: The anonymous artist’s most expensive work generated £18.6 (about $25.4 million) in 2021. Originally titled Girl With Balloon, the piece was at the center of an elaborate stunt in 2018: Just after it sold at auction for $1.4 million, the work was shredded by a hidden device Banksy had built into the frame. It was later retitled Love Is in the Bin.

“Banksy, whose identity has never been revealed, has over the last 20 years risen from being a graffiti sprayer in Bristol to being one of the world’s most coveted living artists,” writes the Guardian’s Philip Oltermann. “Originally famous for his spray-paint murals in unexpected public places, his movable artworks generated a combined total of $184.7 million at auctions between 2004 and 2020.”

Due to their high prices, Banksy pieces have been subject to imitation and forgery in the past. About 15 years ago, Banksy established Pest Control, the official organization that authenticates the enigmatic street artist’s work. Pest Control has confirmed that the pieces from the newly discovered workshop are fakes, per Spanish police.

The investigation into the Zaragoza forgery ring is ongoing, and authorities say that “more victims and new arrests [have not been] ruled out.”

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