Art dealing socialite blew £1million after pretending to sell famous light up pumpkins, court hears

An art dealing socialite blew more than £1 million on her "lavish" lifestyle, which included private jets and a Rolex, after pretending to sell a famous light up pumpkin sculpture, a court heard.

Angela Gulbenkian, 39, received $1.275m (£982,308.29) from a Hong Kong art firm for the polka-dotted piece called the ‘Kusama pumpkin’ by the Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama.

But Gulbenkian, of Richard Strauss Strasse, Munich, never handed over the item and earlier this month admitted the fraudulent sale of the artwork.

Gulbenkian grew up in Munich and married the great-grand-nephew of oil tycoon Calouste Gulbenkian, whose fortune funded a multi-billion pound foundation and Lisbon museum. But around the time of the theft her husband ceased working for his family’s business creating an "unimaginable rift" between him and his father.

Her defence counsel, Mr David Groome, said 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 and Gulbenkian became the family’s only source of income.

She also admitted fraud in relation to a £50,000 investment from Jacqui Ball, a friend who had asked her to invest her money in art, the court heard.

Mathieu Ticolat, co-founder of Art Incorporated which bought the pumpkin, said Gulbenkian is a “sociopath”, Southwark Crown Court heard yesterday.

Mr Ticolat gave evidence via video-link from Hong Kong as he detailed the impact of the fraud.

Angela Gulbenkian allegedly pocketed £1million in payment for a polka dotted piece called the 'Kusama pumpkin' by Yayoi Kusama but never handed over the item

He described Gulbenkian as a “sociopath, always escaping and making lies” and as a result of the theft he has lost clients and had to close his gallery office as he could no longer afford the rent.

In her statement read to the court, Ms Ball said was convinced to “invest my life savings…at a time when I was at my most vulnerable.

“To save this kind of money took me many years and I just couldn’t see how I could do it again.

“I started to question my judgement of people. I started to lack trust.”

Mr Ticolat paid the money into Gulbenkian’s personal HSBC account in May 2017.

She went on to blow more than £1m in just eight months, including £288,000 on shopping alone, a £25,000 Rolex watch and a ‘significant’ amount on chartering a private jet, the court heard.

Mr Ticolat repeatedly asked where his sculpture was only to be fobbed off with excuses, including family illness.

Gulbenkian is due to be sentenced on Thursday. 

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