Russian Avant-Garde Art: Police Break Up Suspected Forgery Ring

Proving whether these and other recovered paintings are indeed forgeries will require the BKA to conduct extensive investigations -- and a separate one for each individual work. The only piece so far proven to be a fake is the purported Kandinsky.

Investigators still need to determine where the fakes were made and how many people painted them. At least some of the paintings, investigators believe, may have been produced by a 53-year-old painter in St. Petersburg, who was caught in the act of forging three paintings simultaneously in Tel Aviv on January 13.

Natanov, meanwhile, has publicly and repeatedly stressed that he had his artworks extensively appraised for authenticity, although he claimed to trust "only experts from Russia."

Was the collector deceived by his business associates? Or did he know about their activities and decide to offer up his family history to lend a credible legend to their forgeries? German investigators have not charged Natanov with any crime. He claims he no longer has anything to do with this business and that he parted ways with business partner Z. years ago because they supposedly "didn't get along."

Natanov says he "simply left" the supposed Kandinsky, which had "been in the family for years," with Z., and that he "didn't received any money for it, nor did I ask for any." He also says that's just the kind of person he is. He still has his art collection, but he declines to reveal how many pieces are in it.

Defense lawyers for Itzhak Z. and Moez Ben H. likewise declined to comment on the accusations. Both men were tried in Italy, where on February 19, 2013, the third chamber of Milan's criminal court sentenced them to suspended sentences of one year each for their involvement in the sale of the forged Kandinsky. The verdicts, however, are not yet legally binding.

As for "K19," the painting is now stored alongside confiscated antiques in a slightly dilapidated side room of a former imperial residence in Monza, a city just north of Milan. The residence serves as an evidence storage facility for the Carabinieri, Italy's paramilitary police force. Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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