Man bought mask from elderly couple for £130 – then sold it for £3,600,000

He's been accused of deceiving the pensioners.

Man bought mask from elderly couple for £130 – then sold it for £3,600,000
This wooden mask is at the centre of a multi-million pound legal controversy (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
This wooden mask is at the centre of a multi-million pound legal controversy (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

An antiques dealer has been accused of deceiving an elderly couple after buying an African mask off them for £130… and then selling it on for £3.6million.

Yes, you read that right. 

The second-hand dealer pocketed a huge 2,800,000% profit at an auction in France for a rare 19th century ‘Ngi’ mask made by the Fang people of Gabon.

But now the sale has been stopped in its tracks by the Gabonese government who say the item should be returned, reports the BBC.

The seller has been hauled into court by the pensioners, aged 81 and 88 from Nimes in central France, who launched a civil case to annul the sale after they realised what had happened.

‘This mask is rarer than a Leonardo da Vinci painting,’ one expert told French media and claimed that only around 10 of them had ever been made by Fang masters.

It was originally brought to France by the husband’s grandfather, who was a colonial governor in Africa, and the couple found it at his house.

One expert said only around 10 of the masks were made by the Fang people in Gabon (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
One expert said only around 10 of the masks were made by the Fang people in Gabon (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

Then in September 2021, they asked a dealer, known as Mr Z, to clear out their holiday home near the southern town of Alès and he found the wooden mask inside a cupboard.

After coming across it at the house, which had belonged to early 20th century colonial administrator René-Victor Fournier, the couple agreed to sell it to the dealer for £130.

Mr Z then sold the mask at an auction in Montpellier a few months later for a whopping £3.6million but claimed he had no idea what it was worth when he purchased it.

Auctioneers had initially valued it at around £260,000 but it achieved almost £3.4million more than that from an unnamed bidder.

The auction catalogue said the item had been collected by Fournier in approximately 1917 in ‘unknown circumstances’.

It was only when the couple read about the transaction in March 2022 that they finally learned of its true value and sought legal action.

The case began on Tuesday in Alès but the Gabonese government has asked for proceedings to be halted while a criminal investigation is carried out.

Gabonese officials say the mask was stolen in the first place and should be returned to the country.

Three years ago, the French parliament voted to return prized artefacts to Senegal and Benin that were looted during colonial times.

There are reportedly around 90,000 African artefacts in France, most of which are from sub-Saharan Africa.

Elsewhere, the organiser of a Black Lives Matter protest who stole tens of thousands of pounds of donations for her own use has been jailed.

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