Art dealer stays mum on losses

THE former high-profile art dealer Ronald Coles is a man of few words.

THE former high-profile art dealer Ronald Coles is a man of few words.

For the past three years, he dodged dozens of irate clients who entrusted him with their life savings, including superannuation funds, and then refused to co-operate with a police investigation into his business affairs.

But now, Mr Coles, 64, faces up to 10 years in jail over an alleged art fraud scheme that left more than 40 people who had purchased his paintings as investments more than $8 million out of pocket.

On Friday, Mr Coles, pictured, reported to Woy Woy Police Station as part of his bail requirements and outside the station had nothing to say again.

In the mid-90s, Mr Coles boasted an annual turnover of more than $20 million and was the art dealer of choice for Sydney socialites and celebrities. He specialised in fine art by some of Australia's celebrated artists, including Sir Arthur Streeton, Brett Whiteley and Norman Lindsay.

However, in January 2009, police launched Strike Force Glasson after a Sun-Herald investigation unearthed two Supreme Court actions against Mr Coles as dozens of friends and investors tried to locate him over alleged missing art and money. Mr Coles claims he was left penniless by the collapse of his investment gallery business at Kenthurst.

Mr Coles was arrested last Monday at Gosford Police Station after a two-year police probe and will stand trial on 77 charges of larceny and 10 of cheating and defrauding as a director. Police will allege Mr Coles sold more than 30 paintings belonging to other people without their permission and without passing on the proceeds. It is alleged he created multiple owners of the same works - by selling paintings to investors without divulging details about the other owners.

When asked if he had any sympathy for his former clients, he said: "Go away. I have nothing to say to you or anyone."

He has been working as a taxi driver in the nearby beachside town of Ettalong for the past 18 months.

Mr Coles will appear before Parramatta Local Court on March 15.

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