Librarian Made Millions Selling 143 Chinese Artworks That He Replaced With Fakes He Painted Himself

Qi Baishi is one of the artist’s whose work was stolen and replaced with a fake. Bobby Yip/Reuters

Xiao Yuan was working as a university professor at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in south-east China when he stole 143 paintings and sold them off for millions. He got away with it for years and was able to do so by replacing the original works with paintings he made himself.

Xiao Yuan, 57, substituted valuable works including landscapes and calligraphies between 2004 and 2006, while working as the chief librarian in a gallery within the library of the .

From 2004 to 2011, he “sold 125 of the original paintings at auction…for more than 34m yuan (£3.5m), and used the money to buy apartments and other paintings.”

And as audacious as his swapping was, he may not be alone.

Appearing in court on Tuesday, he claimed the practice was rampant and the handling of such paintings was not secure. Xiao said he noticed fakes already hanging in the gallery on his first day in the job. Later, after he replaced some of the remaining original works with his own fakes, he was surprised when the latter were substituted for further fake paintings.

He told Guangzhou people’s intermediate court: “I realised someone else had replaced my paintings with their own because I could clearly discern that their works were terribly bad.”

Xiao said he did not know who replaced his fakes, but that students and professors could borrow paintings in the same way as library books. [The Guardian]