Is The Speedygate Fake OMEGA The Tip of the Iceberg?

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The Speedygate scandal proceeds apace. As you probably know, three [now fired] Swatch employees stand accused of conspiring to flog a fake 1957 OMEGA Speedmaster, sold by Phillips auction house for a cool $3.4m. Two years later…

The Swatch Group has finally filed a criminal complaint with Swiss prosecutors against the three still-unidentified perps. A spokesman from the Bern prosecutor’s office wouldn’t say if they’ve launched a criminal investigation. How very Swiss. There are a lot of unanswered questions here…

We know that the Swatch Group was the buyer. Smooth move Ex-Lax! Why leave the sale to the free market? A real buyer buyer might expose the watch as a fake. Real buyers (plural) wouldn’t bid the sale price into stratosphere (most ever paid for a Speedmaster).

Instead, the OMEGA insiders used their company juice to maximize the “Frankenwatch’s” hammer price. And recruited co-conspirators to bid up the price.

Who made the “decision” to buy the faux Speedy for multiple millions? Back in June, watchpro.com pointed the finger at the [now former] head of OMEGA’s Museum and Brand Heritage team.

As you might expect from the watch industry rag, Watchpro’s article forgot to provide the head heritage honcho’s name – despite OMEGA themselves outing the fraudster in a statement to the press. Anyway, the man implicated is Petros “friend of HODINKEE” Protopapas (above).

The same man who told the equally obsequious folks at monochrome.com that “the OMEGA certificate of authenticity aims at bringing confidence to collectors.” And advised collectors “Don’t buy blindly. Do your background checks.”

We don’t know – yet – who the other two bad guys are. Remember: these are the conspirators who worked inside OMEGA. They were not the seller.

Phillips publicly stated it would disclose the Speedygate seller’s identity – if police or prosecutors requested it. Which they will now do, now that OMEGA has officially declared themselves a victim of a crime. Yes, but, it’s highly likely the seller was a dealer.

Despite rampant money laundering in the art world, an art dealer doing business in Switzerland (or the U.S.) isn’t legally obliged to provide an auctioneer with the seller’s identity.

[NB: If the feds mandated art dealers to provide the seller’s name, the entire multi-billion dollar art auction business could collapse, as it did in Mexico when the law changed to require the info.]

The only way to prise that name from the dealer: plea bargain it out of them. Nope. Unless the government can prove the dealer knowingly presented the watch as a fake, no crime was committed. And who wouldn’t trust a certificate of authenticity from the OMEGA museum?

To its credit, Watchpro at least hints at the full scope of the conspiracy.

Omega agreed to bid whatever was required, and it is thought a number of intermediaries were organised to ramp up bidding to the final hammer price of CHF 3,115,500, a shocking result at the time given that Phillips had given the watch a pre-auction estimate of CHF 80,000 to 120,000.”

The Speedygate scam required intermediaries to make the watch, intermediaries to send it to OMEGA for [bogus] authentication, intermediaries to take it to Phillips to auction and intermediaries to purchase the watch at auction (via multiple credible bids). That’s a lot of intermediaries.

Then again, $3.4m is a lot of money. And if it worked once, I’d bet dollars to Brunsli the dream team would have tried it again, eventually.

Hang on. Has this happened before? Maybe not at OMEGA, but this is hardly the first time Jose Perez has outed a Frankenwatch for sale at a major auction house.

As the headline suggests, Speedygate could be the tip of the faux vintage watch iceberg.

Our man Perez is on the case. Here’s hoping someone else has the balls to investigate this story properly, ’cause the Swiss are known to put their country’s reputation and their best customers above silly little legal matters or ethical concerns. Just sayin’…

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