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Machold Behind Bars

The noted violin dealer is accused of multiple crimes and awaits extradition

Dietmar Machold, once regarded as one of the most powerful violin dealers in the world, was arrested in Switzerland on March 16 at the request of Austrian officials. Charges against Machold, who lived in a 14th-century castle on the outskirts of Vienna, include embezzlement, commercial fraud, and fraudulent bankruptcy, to the tune of at least €25 million, according to a spokesperson for the Vienna public prosecutor’s office.

Among the injured parties: the Austrian National Bank, which owns a collection of valuable instruments, including eight Strads. Machold told the New York Times in 2004 that he had sold the bank $25 million worth of fine violins, but the bank charges that instruments are worth substantially less. Other charges include selling violins and pocketing the money and not returning instruments to their owners.

Inflated values were nothing new to the saga of the 61-year-old German-born violin dealer. Machold was a central character in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s controversial purchase of 30 antique instruments in 2003. The orchestra bought the collection from Herbert Axelrod—one of Machold’s best customers—who was later convicted of tax fraud for inflated values on charitable donations. Machold had appraised the collection for nearly $49 million at the time of the NJSO deal, though their true market value was much closer to the $17 million that the orchestra actually paid for them.

When informed of Machold’s arrest, Axelrod, now out of jail and living in Switzerland, told New Jersey The Star Ledger, “Good to hear it. He deserves it. It’s a long time coming.”

In October, Machold Rare Violins was forced to restructure under a new Austrian code, but was declared insolvent and ordered closed December 21.

*This article appeared in Strings July 2011
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