The art dealer who the White House has tapped to vet Hunter Biden’s art sales for ethical conflicts was sentenced to three months in jail in 1998 for threatening to stab a man to death and was later accused of defrauding an investor in a messy 2016 lawsuit, raising alarms with ethics watchdogs.
Georges Bergès, the gallery owner who is scheduled to host exhibitions of Hunter Biden’s paintings this fall, will be responsible for approving sales of the art works—which are priced between $75,000 and $500,000 and will be open to foreign buyers—according to the White House.
Court records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon shed additional light on Bergès’s legal history, which was first reported by the New York Post in January. Bergès was accused in May 1998 of assaulting a man with a knife and making death threats, according to charging documents filed in Santa Cruz County. According to prosecutors, Bergès threatened the victim "with the specific intent that the statement be taken as a threat" and "was so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific as to convey to the victim a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution."
Bergès pleaded no contest to making terrorist threats, a misdemeanor charge. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, required to submit to warrantless police searches, and barred from contacting the victim or possessing deadly weapons for 36 months, according to court records.
Ethics watchdogs, already critical of the Biden administration’s decision to outsource the vetting process to Biden’s art dealer, called for public transparency to ensure prospective buyers don’t use the process to try to purchase influence with the White House. Critics say the sales could attract lobbyists or foreign nationals who would be willing to buy the paintings for way over their value in order to curry favor with the White House. Bergès's legal history serves as a reminder that Hunter Biden's dealings have not always been on the up and up. Biden was tapped for a high-paying board position at the Ukrainian oil company Burisma and at a Chinese hedge fund while his father was vice president, arrangements that drew criticism during the elder Biden’s presidential campaign. He is also under federal investigation for his tax activities.
"Everything about Hunter’s art deal screams shady, and the new information about the organizer only solidifies what we have been saying: Hunter’s shenanigans threaten to derail the entire Biden agenda," said Tom Anderson, director of the National Legal and Policy Center’s Government Integrity Project.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in July that "all interactions regarding the selling of art and the setting of prices will be handled by a professional gallerist, adhering to the highest industry standards, and any offer out of the normal course would be rejected out of hand." She added that Bergès would "not share information about buyers or prospective buyers, including their identities, with Hunter Biden or the administration."
Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, said the administration’s "complete lack of transparency regarding the sale of Hunter Biden's art is deeply troubling."
"There is no way for the public to know who the buyers are and whether or not those buyers are using their purchases to influence decisions made by the president," Arnold said. "This arrangement is opaque and ripe for abuse."
Bergès was also caught up in a 2016 lawsuit in which artist Ingrid Arneberg, the daughter of a Norwegian shipping tycoon, accused Bergès of defrauding her out of a $500,000 investment in his gallery.
Arneberg claimed that Bergès made numerous financial misrepresentations in the investment proposal and that his gallery was in dire economic straits at the time, according to federal court filings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She said the art dealer misled her about how much additional funding he raised and falsely claimed that he sold two dozen paintings by a well-known contemporary artist for $50,000 each, when the actual numbers were significantly lower.
In court records, Arneberg also cited alleged text messages between Bergès and a friend in which the gallery owner supposedly mused that he might have to have sex with Arneberg to convince her to invest.
"Malcolm [Bricklin] thinks I may have to sleep with her [Arneberg] because she is just divorced," Bergès allegedly said in one text message. In other texts, he reportedly described Bricklin, one of his business associates, as "the Godfather shark" who "smells money" and "is about a quick buck and I have to reign him in all the time."
Bergès countersued Arneberg for defamation and breach of fiduciary duty. Both cases were dismissed after an undisclosed settlement in 2018, according to records.
Bergès and Arneberg did not respond to a request for comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.