Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
K.P. writes: I am sending you details of the Global Art Gallery investment company. Can you tell me if this company is genuine?
Tony Hetherington replies: Global Art Gallery Limited does exist, but almost everything else about it is fake. It claims: ‘Global Art Gallery has been in operation since 1997.’ And it adds: ‘Following successful negotiations, GAG purchased a luxury goods brand with a huge clientele and compatible online presence. This brand was Chrononet.’
So a well established art dealership seems to have taken over a high-class watch company. Except that this is completely untrue.
Mystery: The Global Art Gallery lists this Banksy as for sale but its director would not confirm its authenticity
Even the people involved cannot get their story straight. Earlier this year, they announced: ‘Prestigious luxury watch dealer Chrononet has recently aligned with and taken over Global Art Group’ – the exact opposite of what the art company itself says.
And the truth is even more absurd. Neither of these two businesses could take over the other, because they are one and the same company.
Records at Companies House show that Chrononet Limited simply changed its name to Global Art Gallery Limited. There never was any takeover. Records also show that whatever you call it, this company was registered in 2013, not 1997, and it lay dormant until at least 2019, not trading at all, let alone selling high-end watches and paintings.
Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to put together a ‘legend’ – a fake background. They did this by purchasing the name of a defunct website – globalartgallery.com – which really was set up in 1997 in the US.
It closed down a long time ago and last year the disused name was offered for sale. The fakers bought the website name chrononet.com too, which was also not used.
There is enough here to cause serious concern, but you might think you could play safe by simply popping along to the Global Art Gallery and seeing for yourself what is on sale.
Well, good luck with that. It uses a smart address called The Clubhouse in London’s West End and there are pictures on the wall there, but no sign of any art gallery. Alongside genuine businesses, there are firms that pay to use this as a ‘virtual address’.
So just what is the Global Art Gallery selling? It has made big claims: ‘Over the past five years, investment grade art has generated an average return of 20 per cent per annum.’ And, ‘Art was the top performing luxury investment of the past decade, growing by 40 per cent in 2019 alone.’
Prospective clients are told to expect, ‘conservative capital appreciation of 8 to 15 per cent per annum’, but there are few solid details.
However, the website displays works by Banksy, Warhol and Picasso, so I asked Global Art Gallery’s sole director Alfie Wilkie whether he was selling original pictures or prints, and for how much.
He told me: ‘The works that are available to clients at the moment vary from artists such as Banksy; Warhol (lithographs); Picasso (lithographs); Chagall, all of which completely vary in value.’
But Wilkie did not provide a single price. I asked him to confirm that he really did have original works by Banksy and Chagall, and could he identify them? Wilkie did not reply.
He blamed Covid for the absence of any actual gallery in London. He offered no real address for his business, though his telephone number points to the Cambridge area.
Despite this, clients are told they can look forward to ‘stress-free armchair investment managed by our London-based gallery team’. I offered to meet this team, but sadly Wilkie appeared unable to arrange this.
So what we have is an art gallery without a gallery, and with a fake history stretching back almost a quarter of a century, using a smart address where it has no genuine presence, making false claims about takeovers, and refusing to name a single work of art for sale or its price.
It’s hardly Louvre at first sight. Don’t part with your Monet…
Saga of Covid-hit cruise
Mrs E.S. writes: I was on a cruise ship when Australia closed its ports, and when it was allowed to dock, I was permitted to disembark on condition I returned to the UK.
I lost the rest of my holiday, and travelling home involved three nights in Sydney and four nights in Hong Kong.
Saga Insurance has refused my claim on the grounds that it was a package holiday, when actually it was a bespoke holiday built around the cruise.
Tony Hetherington replies: Nobody has disputed that you lost part of your holiday because of Covid restrictions, or that you faced extra expenses to get home. The disagreement has been over who should compensate you.
Saga felt that package travel regulations applied, so it should be the tour operator If Only that footed the bill. The Saga policy only kicks in if costs cannot be recovered from anyone else.
If Only was reluctant to deal with me and wanted to reach a decision in conjunction with your travel agent but it also contacted Saga, reaffirming that yours was not a package holiday.
Meanwhile, you complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service and allowed the Ombudsman to speak to me. The initial decision from Ombudsman was that although you booked various stages separately, your trip did constitute a package holiday, so If Only should pay you, and not Saga.
Surprisingly though, Saga then had second thoughts and let If Only off the hook. Saga said that the claim was complex, with multiple parties involved, but it recognised that this left you facing a challenging situation.
It said: ‘Consequently, it has been agreed that the travel insurance should respond and settle the claim as a gesture of goodwill to bring the matter to a conclusion’.
So after months of discussions, claims and counter-claims, I am pleased that even though it could have declined, Saga has paid you £3,014.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.