Dumas accused of Giacometti auction swindle

A former French foreign minister and the country's leading auctioneer appeared in a courtroom in Paris yesterday accused of defrauding the estate of one of the 20th century's greatest sculptors, Alberto Giacometti.

A former French foreign minister and the country's leading auctioneer appeared in a courtroom in Paris yesterday accused of defrauding the estate of one of the 20th century's greatest sculptors, Alberto Giacometti.

Roland Dumas, 82, a close friend of the late President François Mitterrand, and Jacques Tajan, 63, whose auction house sells more than 50,000 works of art a year, are suspected of illegally retaining about €1.5m (£1.03m) from a sale of the Swiss sculptor's creations in Paris in 1994.

As the confidant, lawyer and - following her death in 1993 - executor of the will of Annette Giacometti, the sculptor's widow, Mr Dumas instructed his friend, Mr Tajan, to organise the sale of 14 sculptures and four paintings to help pay death duties owing on the estate.

Prosecutors and the Giacometti heirs allege that Mr Tajan illegally kept back more than €1.22m of the auction's total proceeds of €6.5m, shoring up his bank balance and hiving off a substantial sum in interest.

They are also seeking an explanation for €370,000 paid into Mr Dumas's bank account by Mr Tajan soon after the sale, despite there being "no trace whatsoever" of any formal legal assistance to the auctioneer by the retired politician.

Mr Dumas was acquitted on appeal last year in connection with France's huge Elf corruption case, the country biggest political and corporate sleaze scandal since the second world war.

He had been sentenced to six months in jail, but the appeals court decided he did not realise that the lavish gifts with which his mistress, Christine Deviers-Joncour, showered him - including a £1,100 pair of Italian shoes, antique statues worth £26,400 and £30,000 of lunches - had actually been paid for by the oil giant. He was ill for much of that trial and lawyers said they feared for him if he had to return to court.

There are further disputes surrounding the Giacometti legacy.

In her will, the sculptor's widow appointed Mr Dumas chief administrator of a proposed foundation dedicated to her husband, who died in Switzerland in 1966.

Family feuds over Giacometti's legacy led to delays, and the foundation, which intends to lend sculptures to museums around the world, was finally formed only last year.

In his capacity as administrator, Mr Dumas asked Mr Tajan to carry out an inventory of the widow's extensive collection of her husband's work.

The sculptor's statues fetch millions of pounds. His Grande Femme Debout II (Tall Woman Standing) sold for $14m (£7.25m) at a Christie's auction in New York in 2000, and the entire legacy is valued at more than €150m.

The auctioneer charged €2m for carrying out the inventory - a sum both the prosecution and the Giacometti family consider wildly excessive. Mr Tajan is charged with "abuse of confidence" and "forgery by a person in public authority"; Mr Dumas with complicity.

Both men reject the charges. Mr Dumas's lawyers argue that the alleged €370,000 backhander was, in fact, legitimate payment for help in a separate legal case, while Mr Tajan has said it was normal practice for auctioneers to "look after" the proceeds of sales on behalf of clients, and formally denies committing "any act contrary to usual custom, honour and probity".

Giacometti, who was also a talented painter, was a leading surrealist sculptor who shot to worldwide prominence in the 1960s.


Jon Henley in Paris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Former train station on banks of Seine to house Giacometti museum
World’s largest collection of Swiss artist’s work will be housed in former Gare des Invalides from 2026

Kim Willsher in Paris

14, Nov, 2022 @2:22 PM

Article image
Alberto Giacometti statue breaks auction record with £65m sale

Video of the 1986 disaster was locked in Florida man's basement for almost 25 years

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

03, Feb, 2010 @11:52 PM

Article image
Institute dedicated to Giacometti set up near artist's Parisian studio
More than 300 sculptures and many ‘debut’ artworks to go on show in Montparnasse exhibition centre opening in June

Dalya Alberge

19, Mar, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
Rare Giacometti chandelier bought for £250 in London set to sell for millions
Piece acquired by English painter in antiques shop in 1960s has been confirmed as lost work by Swiss sculptor

Vanessa Thorpe and Lesley Bellew

28, Jan, 2023 @4:00 PM

Article image
Alberto Giacometti

Norwich's Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art is currently celebrating the centenary of Alberto Giacometti's birth with an exhibition devoted to his postwar work. Oginia Tabisz offers a brief introduction to one of the 20th century's greatest artists

03, Oct, 2001 @3:57 PM

Article image
Adrian Searle on the new Giacometti exhibition

With high-speed trains from St Pancras to Paris only weeks away, we round up the French capital's cultural highlights.Adrian Searle kicks off this special issue with a visit to the stunning new Giacometti exhibition.

Adrian Searle

30, Oct, 2007 @10:31 AM

Article image
France: ex-minister accused of art fraud trial

France's former foreign minister, Roland Dumas, and the country's leading auctioneer, Jacques Tajan, are to be tried after accusations of an alleged fraud involving artworks left by the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

Paul Webster in Paris

19, Dec, 2003 @11:21 AM

Article image
Final Portrait review – lopsided Giacometti biopic
Geoffrey Rush is overly whimsical but this drama about the Swiss artist gets the look just right

Jonathan Romney

20, Aug, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Giacometti portrait exhibition announced after record-breaking sale
National Portrait Gallery announces show day after Swiss artist’s work L’Homme au Doigt sells in New York for $141.3m, a record for a sculpture sold at auction

Mark Brown

12, May, 2015 @5:04 PM

Article image
Giacometti review – master of all things thin
Fight your way through the spindly hordes at this huge, overcrowded Giacometti show and you’ll find a tender, protean artist who is still uniquely strange

Laura Cumming

21, May, 2017 @7:00 AM