A German socialite stole almost £1m from a Hong Kong art dealer from the sale of a pumpkin sculpture to help fund a 'lavish' lifestyle, a court has heard.
Angela Gulbenkian, 39, pocketed the payment for a large polka-dotted artwork called the 'Kusama pumpkin' by the Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama, but never handed over the item.
She also stole £50,000 from Jacqui Ball, a friend and massage therapist she promised to help invest in art.
Gulbenkian, a member of one of Europe's wealthiest art collecting families, then blew the funds in just eight months maintaining a 'lavish' lifestyle - including a £288,000 shopping spree, a £25,000 Rolex watch, and hiring a private jet, a court has heard.
She appeared today at Southwark Crown Court after earlier pleading guilty to the two counts of theft totalling £1,111,484.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Gulbenkian has admitted to fraudulently selling an 81kg (179lb) polka dot yellow 'Kusama pumpkin' by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama for £982,000.
During the hearing, Gulbenkian appeared in the dock wearing a pink and black coat jacket and spoke only to confirm her name.
'Sociopath' German socialite Angela Gulbenkian, 39, appeared at Southwark Crown Court today after earlier pleading guilty to the two counts of theft totalling £1,111,484, including for the sale of a pumpkin sculpture
She has been remanded in HMS Bronzefield, a women's prison, since December 2020 after her arrest in Lisbon under an international arrest warrant following her failure to appear at a hearing in February.
Prosecutor Mr David Markham said Gulbenkian, who is from Munich and is married to the sports agent Duarte Gulbenkian - a member of a prominent arts family - used her name to convince her victims that she was a high-value arts broker and to 'part with their money'.
'The money she was entrusted with she spent dishonestly on herself and her own family,' Mr Markham said.
Gulbenkian's defence counsel Mr David Groome, however, claimed his client initially had 'honest intentions'.
He explained how around the time of the first theft Gulbenkian's husband ceased working for his family's business creating an 'unimaginable rift' between him and his father.
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Hong-King art firm, Art Incorporated Ltd claimed it paid £1.1million Gulbenkian for the ‘Kusama pumpkin’ but never received the piece. Gulbenkian told the directors of AIL a 'series of false excuses' to allay their suspicions
The couple went from having a 'lavish' lifestyle to having their home, which was owned by her father-in-law's gas and oil company, sold from under their feet, Mr Groome said.
Mr Groome added: 'Overnight Ms Gulbenkian became the family's only source of income.
'When she first became involved in the deal with the pumpkin she had honest intentions but when she received the money into her account the temptation was just too great and they began using the funds to pay for the kind of lifestyle that they enjoyed.'
Gulbenkian is said to have been introduced to a Hong Kong-based arts company Art Incorporated Limited (AIL) in later 2016 and claimed she was able to procure them a sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, entitled Yellow Pumpkin, whose owner is unknown.
In May 2017, after the sale had been agreed, AIL transferred 1.275 million dollars to Gulbenkian's personal bank account. However, the artwork was never delivered.
Her bank account statements shows she instead spent the money on luxury items including a 'Rolex watch worth £25,000, two pieces of art worth a total of £56,000' and the 'hiring of a private charter jet'.
Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian
Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was a business man, art collector and philanthropist of Armenian origin, born in the Ottoman Empire.
Gulbenkian played a decisive role in the first half of the twentieth century mediating international negotiations that led to the exploitation of the exceptionally rich oil fields in Al-Jazeera (Iraq).
Throughout his life, he assembled an eclectic and unique