British Property Tycoon Emerges as Investor in Alleged Art Scam

The British entrepreneur who built up property company Dawnay Day before it collapsed amid the global financial crisis may be encountering trouble with a more recent investment -- a share in a painting purchased from a high-flying art dealer now facing fraud charges.

Peter Klimt has asserted a 50% interest in a 1994 Rudolf Stingel painting based on a 2017 deal with Inigo Philbrick, according to a New York court filing last month by another claimant. In one of the biggest art-world scandals in recent memory, Philbrick in 2019 fled his London and Miami galleries for the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu before he was arrested in June on U.S. charges that he sold the same works to multiple buyers in a Ponzi-like scheme.

Klimt’s $1 million investment in the untitled work was raised in a lawsuit filed by Athena Art Finance Corp., a finance firm linked to billionaire George Soros which loaned money to Philbrick against the Stingel. Athena is now seeking a declaration from the court that there are no valid third-party title claims, including Klimt’s, impeding its rights to sell the painting.

Athena declined to comment. Alex Klimt, Peter’s son, declined to comment on behalf of the family. The painting is currently in Athena’s control in a secured facility in New York, according to court filings.

Klimt is one of multiple investors seeking to lay claim to paintings sold by Philbrick, who is currently being held in jail in New York ahead of a trial. Bloomberg previously revealed that British billionaire brothers David and Simon Reuben are behind Guzzini Properties Ltd., a company which claims ownership of another Stingel painting -- his 2012 untitled portrait of Picasso.

‘Serial Swindler’

Similar to Athena, Guzzini filed a 2019 New York suit seeking a legal declaration that it’s the sole owner of the work, as well as an order for its return. The complaint, which didn’t mention the Reubens by name, claimed Guzzini had bought the Stingel painting from Philbrick in 2017, along with two other works, for $6 million. Guzzini consigned the work to Christie’s in New York where it fetched $6.5 million at auction.

A spokesman for the Reuben brothers declined to comment.

Philbrick, 33, was a rising star in the gallery world when questions began to emerge about many of his sales. According to federal prosecutors in New York, he was actually “a serial swindler” who ripped off collectors, investors and lenders to the tune of $20 million by selling the same works multiple times to different parties between 2016 and 2019. He also sometimes used the works as collateral on loans without disclosing that others had ownership interests in them.

A lawyer for Philbrick didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The paintings Philbrick sold are at the center of a slew of lawsuits in New York, Miami and London. In addition to Guzzini, the 2012 Stingel is claimed by Satfinance Investment Ltd., which says it paid Philbrick $3.35 million for a 50% share in January 2016, and German art investment firm FAP GmbH, which says it agreed to buy the painting for $7.1 million in February 2016.

Among other artworks sold by Philbrick and now contested by investors is a $12.5 million painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a Yayoi Kusama installation sold to the Saudi royal family and a 2010 untitled painting by Christopher Wool.

At its zenith under Klimt and co-founder Guy Naggar, Dawnay Day owned a host of trophy properties including the Michelin-starred London restaurant The Wolseley and the Lygon Arms, a hotel in the Cotswolds where Oliver Cromwell stayed before the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Klimt and Naggar were well-known for their love of art with pieces like Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” which was sold for more than $30 million in 2008, hanging on their London office walls.

Such expensive tastes were much remarked-upon after the financial crisis tipped the highly leveraged property company into collapse in 2009. Klimt is now a director at Welbeck Investment Management.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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