The daughter of a wealthy Brazilian art collector used fake fortune tellers to convince her mother that family heirloom paintings were possessed and needed to be removed from the home as part of an elaborate scheme to swindle the family estate, according to a Brazilian police report.
Former model Sabine Boghici, 48, was taken into custody Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro on charges of stealing $140 million in fine art and jewelry and an undermined amount of cash from her mother, Geneviève Boghici, the widow of the late Romanian art dealer Jean Boghici, who had set up a multimillion-dollar business in Brazil. She is also charged with embezzlement, extortion, and false imprisonment.
At some point in her late adolescence, Sabine is said to have become obsessed with dogs and kept dozens of them in the family’s homes. She tried to push her mother to buy her an apartment just for the animals, according to Brazilian news reports. When she refused, she allegedly started to take the revenge on her mother that led to her undoing.
Police chief Gilberto Ribeiro told Reuters that the daughter began to steal the works in 2020. At that time, Brazilian press reports say she used the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to fire the domestic-help staff that had looked after her mother since her father’s death. When the mother resisted, she at one time held a knife to her neck to threaten her, her mother testified to police.
Authorities said she also kept her mother captive and tried to starve her to death before the mom enlisted a friend to change the locks on one of the family’s lavish apartments to keep Sabine out.
Police say prior to imprisoning her mother, Sabine convinced friends to pose as psychics who allegedly accosted her mother outside a bank, telling her that her daughter’s ill-fated attempt at imprisoning her was because demons in the family artwork had possessed her. The “psychics” then visited the home, claiming that the paintings were “cursed with something negative, with negative energy that needed to be prayed over,” Ribeiro said. They then extorted thousands of dollars from the widow—who paid to “purify” the paintings in an attempt to save her wayward daughter.
“They took 16 paintings,” including works by renowned Brazilian artists, according to Brazil news outlet Metropolis, among them three pieces by modernist painter Tarsila do Amaral valued at $137.69 million, the official said.
The family made headlines in 2012 when a fire that started when the air conditioning short-circuited in Sabine’s bedroom ripped through the family’s Rio apartment, destroying a number of valuable works and killing two of the family’s 16 cats, according to UOL News Brazil.
Previously, Sabine Boghici worked as a model for The One Agency, leading to a number of publicly available images of her—many around her father’s art collection.
Two accomplices of the erstwhile heiress have also been arrested on charges of complicity.