Friday, February 12, 1999 Published at 05:16 GMT
'Extraordinary' art fraud trial nears end
Tate Gallery: Archives allegedly corrupted
The jury in the trial of a man accused of masterminding an international fine art fraud has retired to consider its verdict after "extraordinary" court proceedings lasting almost six months.
John Drewe, 50, is accused of amassing large amounts of money by selling fakes of modern masters on the art market as newly rediscovered works.
It is also alleged that he corrupted valuable art archives - including those at the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum - by forging histories for the works, thereby damaging "British heritage" and potentially ruining the reputations of the artists involved.
'Art for arms'
One suspected fake, which was said to have been described as a genuine work by British painter Ben Nicholson, was reportedly sold for £105,000 ($175,000) in the US.
Mr Drewe, of Reigate, Surrey, who conducted his own defence, denies three counts of forgery, one of theft, one of false accounting and one of using a false instrument with intent.
He said he was selling what he maintains are genuine pictures as part of an "art for arms" scandal involving intelligence agents. He also said he was the victim of a conspiracy to "get" him.
The jury at London's Southwark Crown Court have heard evidence from international witnesses from the UK, France, the United States and Israel since the trial began in September 1998.
A key prosecution witness is John Myatt - a "highly-talented" artist from whom Mr Drewe allegedly commissioned pastiches of 20th-Century works of art as part of the fraud plot.
Mr Myatt, 53, of Sugnall, Stafford, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy with Mr Drewe and others between 1986 and 1996.
Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, QC, who took three days to sum up what he described as an "extraordinary" case, cautioned the jury against believing that they were on a "mission to clean up the art world".
Mr Drewe and a schoolfriend, Daniel Stoakes, 52, from Exeter, have already pleaded not guilty to one charge of conspiring with Mr Myatt and others to defraud fine art dealers, experts, auctioneers or collectors.
The jury will continue to consider its verdict on Friday.