Art convictions quashed, careers trashed

Jacqueline Le

Two men acquitted of Australia's biggest art fraud may never regain their reputations or careers despite an admission by prosecutors they might be innocent of faking Brett Whiteley paintings.

Art restorer Mohamed Aman Siddique, 68, and dealer Peter Stanley Gant, 61, were on Thursday acquitted of obtaining and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception over three contested Whiteley paintings.

The men were found guilty of the charges by a Victorian Supreme Court jury in May 2016 following a four-week trial.

Each was sentenced to jail in November but trial judge Michael Croucher put a stay on sending them to prison because he believed the convictions would be quashed on appeal.

Mr Gant was sentenced to five years in prison with a minimum of two and a half years.

Mr Siddique was jailed for three years, with 10 months to be served immediately and 26 months suspended for three years.

The men lodged appeals on the grounds that two witnesses - former gallery assistant Rosemary Milburn and Jeremy James - had given evidence which contradicted the prosecution case.

When it was time for prosecutors to argue their case in the Court of Appeal on Thursday, they instead conceded the convictions were unsafe.

"There is a significant possibility that innocent men have been convicted and each of them should accordingly be acquitted," Daniel Gurvich QC, representing the Crown, said.

When sentencing Mr Gant and Mr Siddique in November, Justice Croucher noted how the case had affected them.

"It is almost certain that Mr Siddique will never be able to work again as an art conservator," he said in his sentencing remarks on November 4.

Mr Gant has been been declared bankrupt and has been working for his daughter's catering business for $25 an hour.

He and his wife also separated in 2016 after almost 30 years of marriage.

Both men declined to comment on their acquittals on Thursday.