A Brazilian woman has been arrested on allegations she was part of a bizarre scheme to defraud her 82-year-old mother out of more than $100 million worth of art work by soliciting "psychics" who claimed the paintings were cursed, authorities in Rio de Janeiro said.
Sabine Coll Boghici, 48, is accused of defrauding Genevieve Boghici, the wife of the late art collector Jean Boghici, out of money, artwork and jewelry totaling some 724 million reais ($142.42 million).
The haul included museum-quality pieces from Brazilian masters Tarsila do Amaral and Emiliano Di Cavalcanti. Video provided by police showed them finding more than 10 works underneath a bed and, at the bottom of the pile, was “Sol Poente” - a do Amaral painting of a brilliant-hued sunset.
According to police, the bizarre con began in January 2020, when a self-proclaimed fortune teller approached the widow in the Copacabana neighborhood and informed her that her daughter was sick and predicted an imminent death.
The widow, who holds mystical beliefs, was compelled to make bank transfers totaling 5 million reais over the course of two weeks for supposed spiritual treatment, authorities said.
She was then introduced to other alleged psychics who, using personal information provided by Coll Boghici, claimed that paintings in the house were cursed with a evil spirits and that they needed to remove them from the house to be purified in order to save her daughter from imminent death.
Coll Boghici proceeded to fire domestic employees so her accomplices could enter the residence unimpeded and remove the artworks.
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The accomplices also allegedly physically threatened Boghici and her daughter kept her confined at home for months.
The fraud lasted for nearly a year before Boghici turned to the police for help.
Authorities recovered a number of the painting during a raid Wednesday on one of the physic's homes. Video provided by police showed them finding more than 10 works underneath a bed and, at the bottom of the pile, was “Sol Poente” - a do Amaral painting of a brilliant-hued sunset.
“Wow! Look who’s here!” one officer exclaimed as she removed bubble wrap from the work. “Oh, little beauty. Glory!”
Three of the artworks, collectively worth more than 300 million reais, were recovered in an art gallery in Sao Paulo. The gallery's owner told police he had purchased them directly from the widow's daughter, and sold two others to the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires, according to the statement.
Authorities believe at least seven people are suspected of involvement in the years-long plot. Several of the "psychics" were also arrested Wednesday and two of them are on the run, police said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.