Whiteley on Trial
On 5 March 2014 at 7am, Melbourne conservator Aman Siddique received an early morning visit he will never forget: Victoria Police knocked on the door of his eastern suburbs home and arrested him for producing three paintings in the style of Brett Whiteley in a brazen $4.5 million art fraud. The next morning, his consort, dubious art dealer Peter Gant, no stranger to the courts, was arrested at his home in the regional centre of Geelong and charged for his part in the same crime. That it took seven years for the two to be arrested after the first fraudulent Whiteley was offered for sale is not as surprising as the fact that they were charged at all. Art fraud is one of the easiest crimes to get away with in Australia-even a fraud of this magnitude, the highest value sting ever committed in this country, perpetrated on two rich Sydneysiders and a seemingly gullible Melbourne cafe owner. Gant and Siddique were heading to trial-but would a jury convict, or would the defence, lead by the formidable Robert Richter QC, demolish the evidence and discredit the opinions of experts including the artist's indomitable ex-wife Wendy Whiteley? The three forged Whiteleys are the tip of the iceberg in a tale of obsession, greed and ego, where the richly diverse worlds of art, horse-racing, high finance, the luxury car trade and a humble tradesman collide-and no one is entirely innocent. Except perhaps the tradesman.
Gabriella Coslovich is a journalist with more than 20 years experience including The Herald Sun and The Age. In 2012, she embarked on a freelance career as a writer, editor and media consultant, specialising in the arts and culture. In July 2013 she took on the role of editing the National Gallery of Victoria's Gallery magazine. After producing eight editions of the bi-monthly magazine, Gabriella has returned to freelance writing and studies, completing a Master of Arts (Creative Writing) at the University of Melbourne, USA.