The investigators of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Consumer Economics Division were astonished when they saw the seized prints. Hirayama Ikuo, Higashiyama Kaii, Picasso, Chagall, ……. They were all works by famous artists from Japan and abroad. But they were all fakes. There were 80 of them.
On September 27, Yuzo Kato (53), former president of the gallery “Kato Bijutsu” and Masashi Kitahata (67), a printmaker, were arrested on suspicion of violating the Copyright Act for producing fake prints of famous artists. The two met each other around 2008. Kato convinced Kitahata that he would never bother him, and they began creating fake works without the permission of the artist or the bereaved family.
He scanned the real works and processed them with the image editing software “Photoshop. It seems that he imitated the colors and the position of the signatures by looking at “Catalogue Raisonne,” a specialized art book that contains all the works of famous painters. He used a specialized technique called “lithography,” in which water and oil repel each other.
Kato falsely claimed that the works were genuine and sold them at department stores, his own gallery, and specialized auctions. A work by a famous painter usually fetches one to three million yen. It seems that the two suspects were splitting the money earned from the sale of fake works between them.
Disposed of and covered up before the investigation began?
The incident came to light in an unexpected way. Last spring, a member of the Japan Modern Print Dealers Association, an industry group of art dealers, became suspicious of the fact that many identical prints were being distributed. After carefully checking the color of the prints and the location of the artist’s signature, they discovered that the prints were not genuine.
“The suspect who was identified from the distribution channel was Kato. Kato admitted that he wrote the signatures by himself, and was expelled from the union in December last year. At the same time, the police, who received a request, started an investigation. It led to the arrest of both suspects and the discovery of a large number of forged works. Mr. Kitahata said, “I was in trouble with money. I thought Kato had permission to do it,’ he stated.
However, the number of fake works is unlikely to be limited to the 80 works discovered. The police investigation revealed that Kato had asked Kitahata to “dispose of the fakes in his workshop” between last spring when the problem was discovered and December when the Metropolitan Police Department launched an investigation. It is said that Kitahata told him that he had made at least 800 counterfeit products, and the total damage is immeasurable.
The total amount of damage is incalculable. “A large sum of money, about 620 million yen, was left in an account in the name of Kato’s company. He is said to have told the police that the money included money he earned from selling fake prints.
In his twenties, Kato set up an art gallery while helping his family’s second-hand bookstore in Osaka Prefecture. But he didn’t seem to have much interest in art. The art dealer was just a way to make money, and he must have been a broker. He frequently traveled to Europe and other countries. It is said that he was often seen enjoying himself at night in Ginza, Tokyo and Minami, Osaka,” said another reporter from a national newspaper.
In Japan, there is no appraisal agency or certificate of authenticity to prove that a print is authentic. In Japan, there are no institutions or certificates to certify “authentic prints. It seems that corrupt art dealers, who had a reputation for purchasing popular works at low prices, took advantage of the blind spot of the art world to make money.
Photography： Shinji Hasuo