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It was the kind of big ticket sale that puts a new art auction house on the map: a bidder offered $1.7 million for an 18th-century Chinese vase from Altair Auctions of Norwood, an eye-popping price more normally seen in elite houses such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s.
But when the Globe discovered that the vase bore a striking resemblance to a modern reproduction auctioned off a year ago for just $3,840, the deal began to unravel. The two vases are almost certainly the same, but someone had written a phony history and placed a Christie’s sticker on the vase to hide its humble past from rich new buyer.
Now, federal prosecutors are investigating whether Altair engaged in fraud.