‘Sociopath’ German socialite, 39, who stole £1million from Hong Kong art dealer from sale of ‘Kusama pumpkin’ sculpture and blew it on a £288,000 shopping spree, Rolex watch and private jet is jailed for nearly four years
- Angela Gulbenkian, stole the payment for a contemporary Japanese artwork
- She received payment for the artwork called ‘Kusama pumpkin’ by Yayoi Kusama
- She spent almost £300,000 on travel, private jets and luxury shopping sprees
- Gulbenkian was jailed for three-and-a-half years at Southwark Crown Court
A German socialite who stole more than £1m from the sale of a pumpkin sculpture and blew the lot on funding her lavish lifestyle was today jailed for three and a half years.
Angela Gulbenkian, 39, pocketed the payment for a polka dotted piece called the ‘Kusama pumpkin’ by the Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama, but never handed over the item.
Mathieu Ticolat, co-founder of Art Incorporated, paid the money into Gulbenkian’s personal HSBC account in May 2017.
‘Sociopath’ German socialite Angela Gulbenkian, 39, appeared at Southwark Crown Court today after earlier pleading guilty to the two counts of theft totalling £1,111,484, including for the sale of a pumpkin sculpture
Hong-King art firm, Art Incorporated Ltd claimed it paid £1.1million Gulbenkian for the ‘Kusama pumpkin’ but never received the piece. Gulbenkian told the directors of AIL a ‘series of false excuses’ to allay their suspicions
Mr Ticolat, who was forced to close his business as a result of the fraud, described Gulbenkian as ‘a sociopath’.
The German socialite, who is married to the sports agent Duarte Gulbenkian – a member of a prominent arts family – used her name to convince her victims that she was a high-value arts broker and to ‘part with their money’, prosecutor David Markham said.
Gulbenkian, from Munich, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft totalling more than £1 million at London’s Southwark Crown Court, which heard how she spent the money on herself and her family.
She blew £218,000 on shopping, £121,000 on travel, bought luxury items, including a £25,000 Rolex watch and two art pieces worth £56,000, and hired a private charter jet.
Judge David Tomlinson jailed Gulbenkian for three-and-a-half years on Thursday, telling her: ‘Both counts on the indictment involve, in comparative terms, thefts of very large sums of money.’
He added: ‘Running through all of this criminality was a sustained obfuscation on your part.
‘When AIL and Ms Ball separately tried to get you to deliver on your promise, your treatment of them prolonged the distress.’
Gulbenkian has already served the equivalent of a two-year sentence having been arrested in Lisbon under a European arrest warrant and remanded in HMP Bronzefield after being extradited to the UK in December 2020
Gulbenkian has already served the equivalent of a two-year sentence having been arrested in Lisbon under a European arrest warrant and remanded in HMP Bronzefield after being extradited to the UK in December 2020.
The court heard Gulbenkian was introduced to AIL in 2016 and claimed she was able to procure them the Kusama sculpture, entitled Yellow Pumpkin, whose owner is still unknown.
In May 2017, after the sale had been agreed, AIL transferred 1.275 million US dollars (around £982,000) to Gulbenkian’s personal bank account, but the artwork was never delivered.
Who was Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian?
Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian
Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was a business man, art collector and philanthropist of Armenian origin, born in the Ottoman Empire.
Gulbenkian played a decisive role in the first half of the twentieth century mediating international negotiations that led to the exploitation of the exceptionally rich oil fields in Al-Jazeera (Iraq).
Throughout his life, he assembled an eclectic and unique collection that was influenced by his travels and his personal taste.
Gulbenkian took British citizenship in 1902 and died in 1955, in Lisbon.
Source: Gulbenkian Foundation
One of the owners of AIL, art adviser Mathieu Ticolat, gave evidence via video-link from his home in Hong Kong, telling the court he had been through ‘hell’.
‘This industry is based on trust and I believed her because she said she was part of the Gulbenkian family. I was deceived,’ he said.
‘I’m not a billionaire, I’m an arts adviser and I’m still trying to recover.’
David Groome, defending, said that at the time of the theft, Gulbenkian’s husband had stopped working for his family’s business, creating an ‘unimaginable rift’ between him and his father.
The couple went from living a ‘lavish’ lifestyle to having their home, which was owned by her father-in-law’s gas and oil company, sold from under their feet, Mr Groome said.
‘Overnight, Ms Gulbenkian became the family’s only source of income,’ he said.
‘When she first became involved in the deal with the pumpkin she had honest intentions but when she received the money into her account the temptation was just too great and they began using the funds to pay for the kind of lifestyle that they enjoyed.’
He described the theft as a ‘dishonest borrowing’ and said Gulbenkian hoped to repay the money if her husband and his father reconciled or if a ‘lucrative deal came her way’.
Mr Groome told the court she was just days away from closing a deal that would have netted her ‘the lion’s share of 2.5 million dollars’ when she was held in Portugal.
But Crown Prosecution Service prosecutor Laura Hoon said: ‘Angela Gulbenkian used her status and powerful connections in the art dealing world to portray an air of legitimacy while carrying out her criminal activities.
‘She stole thousands and concocted a web of lies for months on end.’
Gulbenkian befriended second victim Ms Ball after meeting her at a gym in Battersea, south London, where the victim was working as a personal trainer and sports massage therapist.
Ms Ball told Gulbenkian about her aspirations to buy a house and a car and the defendant offered to help her by investing her life savings in art.
She deposited £50,000 in January 2018 into Gulbenkian’s account, which was spent within a year on travel, dining, shopping and art.
Gulbenkian repaid Ms Ball the money through her solicitor after the theft was reported to police.
Who is Yayoi Kusama?
World famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (pictured in 2017) is one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people
World famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, known as ‘the queen of polka dots’, was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people.
Kusama, 88, is known for her use of vivid colour in her works that often depict polka dots and spotted pumpkins.
She often appears in a wheelchair and sporting her trademark red wig.
Born in 1929 in central Japan’s Nagano prefecture, Kusama suffered from psychological trauma due to feuding between her parents, and was already drawing dots and nets as a child based on her hallucinatory experiences.
After moving to the United States in 1957 at age 28, Kusama became a fixture in the Pop and Minimalism art movements of the 1960s.
Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin
During a 16-year stint in New York, she staged ‘happenings’ at the height of the sexual liberation movement where people stripped naked and had their bodies painted with polka dots on Wall Street or Central Park.
By the time Kusama returned to Japan in 1973,she was burned out and voluntarily checked into a psychiatric ward where she has lived ever since.
It was not until the 1990s that Kusama was ‘rediscovered’.
Her commercial success was highlighted when she collaborated with Louis Vuitton in 2012 and she was named the world’s most popular artist in 2014 by the Art Newspaper.
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