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Police investigating art fraud to return Charles Blackman paintings

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Senior Court Reporter for The Age

View more articles from Steve Butcher

Police investigating fraudulent Brett Whiteley paintings have agreed to return about $1 million of other works to an art conservator whose premises they raided earlier this year.

Detectives in February executed search warrants at the Collingwood home and Templestowe workplace of Muhammad ''Aman'' Siddique and seized a number of artworks.

The Melbourne Magistrates Court heard on Thursday that 13 works by Charles Blackman and others by Arthur Streeton and Fred Williams were removed.

No Whiteleys - original or fake - were found, but sketches and paintings by Howard Arkley were also seized and remain in the possession of police pending examination by Melbourne University expert Robyn Sloggett.

Barrister Christopher Dane, QC, and solicitor George Defteros appeared in court to apply for the return of the works to Mr Siddique, 62, who has not been charged and who has qualifications from the then London Institute of Art and the Chelsea School of Art.

Their application settled after discussions with Crown prosecutor Tom Gyorffy, QC.

Mr Dane told Deputy Chief Magistrate Lance Martin that descriptions in the search warrants - which sought if any Whiteley paintings disclosed a ''technique'' to support a charge - did not match that of items seized.

Mr Dane said the warrant listed the items as any paints, frames, solvents, sketchbooks, notebooks or anything used in the manufacture of fraudulent Whiteley paintings, including financial transactions, photos or digital images.

He revealed that ''no Whiteley paintings of any description … original or fraudulent'' were found, but there were a ''great many'' items by Blackman, Streeton and Williams seized at both premises that were ''exceedingly valuable''.

Mr Dane, who estimated their value at about $1 million, said while the Arkley works seized would be retained for examination, the Blackmans and other paintings would be returned.

Mr Gyorffy confirmed that police needed more time to examine documents and ''other items that came to light'' during the searches which investigators had not been aware of.

He said part of the resolution between the parties was that some items on a list he handed Mr Martin, which included the works to be returned to Mr Siddique, were being investigated for possible offences.

Mr Defteros later told Fairfax Media his client was a respected professional who was ''extremely pleased to have all of the Blackman works returned'' and who will ''continue to seek the return'' of the other works.

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