Suspected ringleader is a well-known Chinese art dealer in Madrid

Gao Ping runs a culture foundation, a downtown art gallery and has played a role in Spain-China relations

Gao Ping, pictured in 2011.
Gao Ping, pictured in 2011.ÁLVARO GARCÍA

“The business dealings of Gao Ping and his family go back to the beginning of the 20th century and, after three generations, they have gradually expanded throughout the world.” This is how Gao himself once described his success and wealth on the webpage of the Art and Culture Foundation, he set up in Madrid in 2007.

Now Gao is behind bars following his arrest in a sweep early Tuesday, charged with being the leader of massive money-laundering organized crime ring connected to the Chinese mafia.

Gao is a something of a celebrity among the Madrid’s Chinese community and in his own country. He has been involved, among other things, in the introduction of Chinese art to Spain and Spanish art to China.

The now 45-year-old Gao has spent nearly half of his life in Madrid. His gallery Gao Magee was opened next to the Reina Sofía Museum in 2010. In Beijing, he also has art galleries and a Spanish art distribution center called Iberia.

Police found Gao at his home in Madrid’s fashionable Somosaguas suburb, where he was led out handcuffed by two officers just hours before his children returned from school. Authorities also conducted a search of his Gao Magee gallery and home late Tuesday. According to sources, investigators confiscated large quantities of cash from his residence.

Besides his commercial activities, Gao has been involved in a wide range of projects. In 2008, he helped inaugurate an exhibition entitled Poetic Realism, in Fuenlabrada, whose town hall co-sponsored the art show. Among those attending the opening was China’s ambassador to Spain.

His cellphone at the time was 618888888. When asked about the unusual number, Gao responded: “I like it that way. If you pay a large sum to Telefónica they give you any number you want.”