Ignorance Is No Excuse…But It May Be a Defense

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Safe12 150x137 Ignorance Is No Excuse...But It May Be a DefenseInternational art dealer Guy Wildenstein, who has been charged in Paris with breach of trust for concealing art that had been reported missing or stolen, has a unique defense:  he didn’t know he had the art.

Head of the New York-headquartered Wildenstein Institute, which provides detailed research on art for scholars, Guy Wildenstein surprised a judge by saying that an institute vault holding 30 valuable pieces of art belonging to heirs and other owners had never been inventoried, so he had no knowledge of the art’s existence.

An article in last Wednesday’s New York Times detailed Wildenstein’s arrest on breach of trust charges, which carries a seven-year prison term in France.  Wildenstein said the lack of an inventory was due to conflicts in the family business following his father Daniel’s death a decade ago, and a lack of staffing at the institute.

Paris authorities seized the artworks during a raid that resulted from a dispute over the division of Daniel Wildenstein’s estate.  Daniel’s widow had charged other family members with tax evasion and money laundering in an attempt to gain a larger share of the estate.  She died last November.

Among the works was a 20-piece multi-million dollar art collection that Suzanne Reinach, 98, inherited from her aunt, who died in 1972.  Daniel Wildenstein was hired by the aunt’s estate to divide the art among three branches of heirs; none of the art reached its intended recipients and Guy Wildenstein maintains it was because none of the heirs had requested the return of the art to its rightful owners.  Reinach says she has never spoken with Wildenstein, and was unaware he held her inheritance.

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