Art conservator Mohamed Siddique, 67, and Melbourne art dealer Peter Gant, 61, were found guilty of creating and selling two fake Brett Whitely paintings for $3.6 million, and offering a third fake for sale for $950,000. Justice Michael Croucher quoted from the unfinished memoir of the late critic, Robert Hughes, saying, "art prices are largely about voyeurism and toxic snobbery. They are what you see when you peer up the anus of culture".He sentenced Gant to five years' jail with a two-and-a-half-year non-parole period.Siddique received a three-year prison sentence with a 10-month immediate jail term, to be followed by a 26-month good behaviour bond.But the judge also put the jail terms on hold until the case reaches the Court of Criminal Appeal, citing concerns the jury's guilty verdict could possibly be "unsafe".
The artworks were created from scratch by Siddique in his Collingwood studio to resemble the late artist's acclaimed "Lavender Bay" series and then sold by Gant, who used his connections in the art world to place the paintings with experienced dealers. "The paintings must have been pretty good because not only did two sell at these hefty prices, but a bevy of respected industry experts gave them gushing approval," Justice Croucher said. The first was described by an agent as a "trophy painting" and was snapped up by an investment banker sight unseen, while another was placed with a dealer who said he "loved it". However, suspicions were raised when Whiteley's ex-wife Wendy Whiteley raised concerns about one of the works, describing it as "a bad hair day Whiteley".