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Criminal charges have been filed against Ezra Chowaiki, the over-extended art dealer who confessed to his silent partner in September that he had been playing fast and loose with clients and their money. Since that time, Naftali Leser sued to recover his Giorgio de Chirico late work that he acquired from the gallery in 2015. Leser's suit caused the gallery to file for bankruptcy.
On the face of it, Chowaiki's actions are already a major scandal. The bankruptcy reveals debts of $12m or more against assets of a mere $300,000. What's worse, Chowaiki is accused of a Producers-like scheme of over-selling shares in paintings that were not his own as well as using the proceeds from sales of works consigned to pay for other works. There also seems to be evidence that Chowaiki was using his clients' artwork as collateral for loans.
It's all a bit of mess that will take some time to unwind. Some of the consignors, including Jeffrey Loria, San Francisco dealer Rowland Weinstein, Pierre Sebastien, van Gogh expert Bogomila Welsh-Ovaharov and the painter Joao de Brito, may find themselves helpless to stop the bankruptcy administrator from selling their works to satisfy Chowaiki's creditors.
The now-notorious art shipping, storage and freeport king, Yves Bouvier, also had a Degas, Danseuse en Rose with Chowaiki that may now be at risk. When the Park avenue dealer declared bankruptcy, the Degas painting wasn't on the premises.
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