The Plough Altink I Affair

Although only a few documents concerning the case were published, this page will recreate the timeline and events of the criminal case against Cor van L., which is better known as the First Altink Affair. Based on testimonies, news articles, Van L.’s biography, and a few court documents, it will become clear how the First Altink Affair came to be and how it was possible that Van L. was released and dismissed of all charges. All to show how difficult it can be for the Justice Department to get a forger convicted.

The – what would later become known as the first – Altink Affair started in 1991 when Renée Smithuis learned that Van L. and his wife had offered several The Plough works, in particular of Jan Altink, to different auction houses. At first, Smithuis didn’t realize that the paintings were all coming from the same two individuals, as they were sold using a variety of different names such as Hoogeveen, De Haas, and Hillebrandt. When she realized that all these pseudonyms were, in fact, the same couple, she informed the auction houses about the forgeries.
At that same time, the press had gotten wind of what was happening, which resulted in the first coverage of the case by Nieuwsblad van het Noorden.[1]

The warnings given by Smithuis resulted in six criminal complaints being filed by different auction houses – such as Sotheby’s and ‘Het Haags Venduehuis’ – for attempted fraud against Van L. on the 6th of June 1991.

These charges would lead to a yearlong investigation into Van L. by the Amsterdam police department, culminating in a raid that took place on the 13th of July 1992. During this raid, Van L. was arrested and 31 paintings were confiscated. Of these 31 paintings, Smithuis and Cees Hofsteenge, who were recruited as experts by the police, declared 28 of them as being fake. Still, during interrogations at the Amsterdam police station, Van L. kept declaring he was innocent. He did, however, admit he was capable of making the forgeries.[2] After four days of interrogation, Van L. would be released. The confiscated paintings would be returned to him in January 1993. Soon after, in March 1993, the case would be dismissed due to lack of evidence. What’s more: Van L. received compensation from the Public Prosecutor’s Office for the imprisonment during the interrogation.

The press, however, held its focus on the case, leading to several publications which, although the charges were dropped, paint Van L. as a highly dubious figure. This already very reluctant attitude of the press towards Van L. was further strengthened when, again, Nieuwsblad van het Noorden reported on a new case in which Van L. had not only refused to send back the taxation report, as the compiler Auke van der Werff had rescinded it, but more importantly, he had used it as an authenticity report, instead of a taxation report.[3] This intentionally-altered taxation report would also return to play a role in the second Altink Affair.

The two experts the police had consulted did not agree with the public prosecutor’s office decision to drop the case and started an article 12 procedure on the 31st of March 1994. (This procedure is a tool available to citizens to have the justice department prosecute a suspect even after the charges have been dropped.)

On the 20th of September 1994 it was reported that the Attorney General had advised the court to again drop the case, because, although he thought Van L. had committed a crime, there was no substantial legal evidence against him.[4] In September 1995 the court would again drop the case due to a lack of legal evidence against Van L. This lack of evidence was partially due to a grave procedural error by the Amsterdam police department, who had failed to submit the forensic report by the Dutch Forensic Institute (NFI), declaring the works to be fake. This failure to properly prosecute Van L. for his crimes was condemned by several newspapers. Hollands Dagblad wrote with great outrage that all the facts were publicly known, and that, due to amateurism on their end, the police department had failed to live up to their duties to combat the systematic disruption of the art market through art forgery. “A professional forger goes free!”[5]

The first Altink Affair ended with Van L. not only going free but actually making money from it, due to the compensation he received. During the second Altink Affair, it became more and more apparent that Van L. had gone free not as a result of his innocence, but because of mistakes made by an – for forgery cases – ill-equipped police force.

[1] Nieuwsblad v.h. Noorden (25-05-1991).

[2] Korterink, pp. 24-25.

[3] Nieuwsblad v.h. Noorden (31-03-1994).

[4] Nieuwsblad v.h. Noorden (20-09-1994).

[5] Hollands Dagblad (27-09-1995).

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