Marino Massimo de Caro, 49, comes to the appointment with a bag full of books, including a facsimile of the A starry Messenger, Galileo Galilei’s treatise on astronomy printed in Venice in 1610: the work that was stolen from the National Library of Spain and whose original he confesses to having sold for 500,000 euros in the Paris bookstore where the missing copy is believed to have ended up, as stated in an interview with EL PAÍS. He wears a navy blue jacket, a light shirt, black pants, and sports shoes. The mask hides his face, and his blue eyes convey the image of a captivating man who seems not to have broken a plate. A mirage. In 2012 he was arrested for looting hundreds of old books from the Girolamini library in Naples, of which he was director, and for selling counterfeits of works by Dante and Galileo that he presented as authentic. They sentenced him to eight years in prison and seized all his assets, including a one-million-euro villa and his collection of books. A year earlier he had been appointed advisor to the Italian Ministry of Culture.
In Verona, the Italian city where this former forger lives, this afternoon it rains incessantly and the noise of the water in the drains accompanies the whole conversation. De Caro does not hide his satisfaction when he summarizes his past. The son of two history and philosophy professors, at the age of 21 he began working in Rome as an advisor to an Italian senator. Official by opposition, bookseller and traveler in America in search of old works that he sold in London and New York, at 30 he won the friendship of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mejía, director of the Vatican Apostolic Library, and from there he jumped to the Ministry of Goods Cultural of Italy, where he gave the great blow that led him to jail.
He has just served his sentence, but the name De Caro is once again in the eye of the hurricane. A report from the National Library of Spain (BNE), dated 2018 and revealed a month ago by this newspaper, points to him as the alleged author of the falsified copy of the A starry Messenger which was exchanged for the original stolen from this library, possibly in 2004, to hide the theft. A work that is still not located and whose disappearance was reported to the police by the institution’s management more than four years after the discovery of the theft. The conclusions of this report, signed by Javier Docampo, a deceased official, point to this former counterfeiter who now works in a mask factory and earns 1,500 euros per month. The suspect in the theft is the Uruguayan César Ovilio Gómez, one of his old friends.
Question. British professor Nick Wilding informed the BNE that the A starry Messenger from that institution was a forgery similar to the copies made by you. He blames him directly, and his thesis is included in the official library report.
Answer. It is a falsehood. The genius Wilding says that it is the same as my copies, but to make this facsimile they used the version that is in the university library in Rome, printed when I was already in jail.
P. However, when you were arrested you confessed to having made five copies of Galileo’s treatise on astronomy. Is the one that has appeared in the BNE yours or not?
R. I would need to get my hands on it. If it’s my copy, I need to look at it. I don’t know how it got there.
P. Allow me to show you photographs of the counterfeit specimen that appears in the BNE catalog.
R. Such a poorly made forgery cannot be mine. My book is almost perfect. This is almost childish. I don’t understand how they didn’t realize it before.
P. Do you know César Ovilio Gómez? He is the person of Uruguayan nationality who had consulted the missing book at the BNE in 2004 and who three years later stole Ptolemy’s maps from the same library.
R. I met César around 2003 in the Vatican library, he was with Cardinal Mejía. He told me that he knew my friend Daniel Pastore, who owns a bookstore in Argentina. He introduced himself as a historian, but knew almost nothing. I remember that I was consulting the letters of Columbus. Then we met in Argentina several times.
P. In the bookstore of his friend Pastore, Imago Mundi, precisely the maps stolen by Gómez were sold. You will understand that so many coincidences are difficult to explain. His version is hard to believe, almost everything comes together in you.
R. Yeah right…
P. You have confessed that you had the help of the bookseller Pastore to forge the copy that you sold to the bookstore Martayan Lan, in New York, whose authenticity generated a heated debate among Galileo’s specialists. And it was precisely Professor Wilding, who is now pointing you out, who demonstrated that that unique colored specimen of the A starry Messenger it was false. A work that was valued at 10 million.
R. Pastore knew that I was doing the A starry Messenger, but he didn’t want to know anything. I did it to show all the specialists that I was better than them. I told Richard Lan that it was a reproduction and he paid me $ 150,000. [El librero siempre aseguró que De Caro se lo vendió como auténtico y que fue engañado].
Someone from inside the library helped steal the Galileo and won money
P. What participation did César Ovilio Gómez have in the falsification of this copy?
R. Cesar knew who my printer was. He was the one who gave me that Argentine printer. Many tests were done until the final result was perfect. The paper and printing were made there, in Argentina. It could be one of those copies that is in the BNE, but you would have to see it well.
P. The BNE report concludes the following sequence: a forgery is made from a facsimile published in Pisa in 1964; Gómez changes it for the original from the BNE in 2004; with the original another more perfect forgery is made from which comes the body of the book, not the cover, of the two copies sold at the Martayan-Lan bookstore and at Sotheby’s in 2005; the BNE original was sold at the Sourget bookstore in Paris that same year. What do you think?
R. I sold that copy to Sourget. It had a restored stamp on the cover. I sold it for about 500,000 euros and had paid 350,000 for it.
P. Do you admit to having sold it? That specimen is precisely the one believed to have been stolen from the BNE. Where did you get it?
R. It was sold to me by an important Argentine family, through the Pastore bookseller. It was the copy that I used to make my copies.
P. You know what that family was called. Can you prove its origin?
Pastore knew I was doing the ‘Sidereus Nuncius’, but he didn’t want to know anything. I did it to show all the specialists that I was better than them
R. No, I don’t know what they are called. I also don’t know where the book is now.
P. He insists on having nothing to do with the forgery.
R. Look, the National Library would also have to answer many questions. If it was Gómez who stole it, he had to enlist the help of someone from inside the library. If you consulted it only once, how did you know the exact size of the body to change? Cutting, sewing and glueing takes between 30 and 45 minutes. [De Caro hace una demostración con un libro antiguo]. Also, that no one notices and that when returning it is not noticed is very rare. Someone on the inside made money, sure. How much does a Library employee earn?
P. Yes, but now we talk about counterfeiting.
R. In Italy the lack of control has a responsibility and the State can claim damages.
P. The police are investigating this case. Are you worried that all eyes will be directed at you?
R. You have located me, right? The police can come whenever they want. I am willing to collaborate.
P. Have you visited a public library again?
R. In the cultural sphere they take me for a monster. I have only stepped on a private one of friends.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.