AN auctioneer who looks “straight out of the Antiques Roadshow” has been arrested after an elaborate heist in Marbella.
Detectives on the Costa del Sol have charged John White over an alleged scam to defraud dozens of people of their valuable antiques.
They are probing whether White, 58, set up a sting which saw dozens of expatriates hand him rare coins and other items, worth an estimated one million euros.
Greying White – described as “someone straight off the Antiques Roadshow” – allegedly hoodwinked up to 100 clients over a three-month period.
But his game was rumbled in a clever heist after clients were informed by email that Mr White had “suddenly died of cancer” in the US.
Far from convinced and fearing the loss of up to 100,000 euros of valuables, two of his victims posed as a potential new client to flush him out.
In a clever sting, the pair met White at a Fuengirola cafe, before bundling him into a car insisting they went to get their property.
But White still refused to be outdone and, despite his age, pulled a knife on his clients at the luxury 500,000 euro home he was renting in Marbella.
“I was stabbed several times after being kidnapped, tied up and thrown into the boot of a car.”
After a scuffle, in which both parties were wounded, his clients, who are from South Africa, fled before police arrived to arrest White.
Marbella police had already been investigating White over the auction fraud after a series of reports were filed.
But in a cunning twist, White claimed to be the innocent party and insisted he had become the victim of a vicious attack, in which his clients kidnapped him and stole the items scheduled for auction.
In a frantic late night phone call from Marbella police station he told an Olive Press reporter: “I was stabbed several times after being kidnapped, tied up and thrown into the boot of a car.
“They pretended to be antique sellers at first, but then they bundled me into their car, took me to my home and stole 25,000 dollars and all the antiques.”
This claim is completely denied by his clients, a pair of South African businessmen, living on the Costa del Sol.
While they were arrested the following day and accused of ‘illegal detention” and robbery, their lawyer insisted they were completely innocent.
Carlos Vee, of firm GA Lawyers, said: “They were simply trying to get their property back and worked out a clever sting to catch him out.
“Where they went wrong was not to get the police involved in advance.”
He continued: “It is a case of the conman getting conned. He is a very credible bookish sort of bloke, straight out of the Antiques Roadshow.
“He took a lot of people in a plot reminiscent of a Tom Clancy novel. He had apparently done it a few times before and is a seasoned sociopath.”
While police confirmed they were investigating a “fracas” outside his home, they also confirmed they were probing the suspected antiques fraud.
Police started investigating after two reports were filed against White last week.
This week detectives scoured his three-storey townhouse, which he rented on the outskirts of the celebrated Spanish tourist resort.
Cordoning off the house, they eventually emerged with a number of items, including an unidentifiable machine about a metre in length.
The auctioneer, who had apparently been renting the home for six months, had arranged a series of ‘bogus’ auctions of rare and historic antiques, which never took place.
Advertising the event in local newspapers and through posters, he was inundated with sellers – mostly elderly Britons – keen to cash in on their valuables.
However, after one high profile auction at Marbella’s prestigious Hotel el Fuerte was cancelled twice, his clients grew suspicious.
After failing to get through to his phone number or address, they heard he had moved to America, and was “recovering from cancer”.
One concerned client Maria Weldon Weightman, 60, from Glasgow – whose valuables were estimated to be worth over 20,000 euros – has filed an official police report.
“I have been trying to call him for more than two weeks and I have heard nothing,” explained Weightman, who has lived in Estepona for a number of years.
“It is very strange, he guaranteed me that my items would be sold by the New Year.”
Another client Elizabeth Davies, from Birmingham, handed over a priceless Roman broach with three extremely rare Roman coins inside, plus numerous other items.
She said: “I took him at face value, I believed that he as he was older he would be more trustworthy.
“I just feel like such an idiot for having originally agreed to this.”
Our investigators also failed to get hold of White, who eventually sent a string of bizarre emails via a third party, claiming he was in the US recovering from cancer.
At first they claimed he was close to death, but later said he was making a recovery.
They also insisted the terms of the auction had been clearly explained.
The third party, who gave his name as David Harris, insisted that sellers would be paid 60 days after the auction and that clients were made aware of this.
In a spelling-mistake spewed email, he said: “It doesn’t matter what you say or do, we have tried to explain to a few clients here in Marbella but it seems to go in one ear and out of the other,” read the email.
.”We don’t just sit in an office doing nothing all day.”
However, clients have since refuted the claims, insisting that no sure assurances were ever made.
Judy Rosevear, 60, from Cornwall, explained: They didn’t explain any of this to us, he actually never made it clear about how or when he would pay.
“The biggest problem is the very fact you cannot get hold of them.”
While police scoured his home neighbours alleged that he has not paid his rent for several months.
A Marbella national police detective confirmed that White had been charged and bailed.
He said: “We are still looking into this case but I would hesitate to add much more at this stage.”