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As one of the poshest of the posh stars of TV series Made In Chelsea, Victoria Baker-Harber is no stranger to the scandalous relationships of the upper classes.
Nothing, however, can compare with the real-life drama awaiting the 33-year-old socialite and swimsuit designer in a New York federal court next week, where her art dealer boyfriend (and father of her 18-month-old daughter) is due to be sentenced for one of the biggest art market frauds in history.
Inigo Philbrick has already pleaded guilty to swindling several former clients out of more than £70 million, after selling the same valuable masterpieces several times over to different investors and using the cash to fund his lavish, jet-setting lifestyle.
After his lies finally caught up with him in 2019, he went on the run for six months before the FBI tracked him down.
Victoria Baker Harber pictured with Inigo Philbrick climbing a volcano in Vanuatu when Victoria was five months pregnant with their daughter
More, in a moment, of the 34-year-old former Mayfair gallery-owner’s elaborate and breathtaking fraud; not to mention his explanation to a judge that he fleeced clients — including a Saudi royal and the world-famous London auction house Christie’s — ‘for the money, your honour’.
So dramatic is it all, that Hollywood producers are already said to be vying for film rights to this Talented Mr Ripley-esque saga.
One wonders whom they will choose to play the statuesque, designer-clad Victoria. Because whoever it is will have a particularly dramatic part in this astonishing saga.
For, with the father of her child facing up to 20 years in prison, the Mail can exclusively reveal that the reality TV star actually fled with Inigo to the tiny South Pacific island of Vanuatu as his life of crime unravelled. The pair slummed it together below the radar in a run-down beachside boat house until Inigo was finally arrested during an extraordinary undercover operation by FBI agents in June 2020.
Made in Chelsea socialite Victoria Baker-Harber poses in a picture posted to her Instagram page
He was then bundled into a Gulfstream jet and flown back to the U.S., leaving behind a devastated and pregnant Victoria.
If only the Made In Chelsea cameras had been around to catch these extraordinary events.
Instead, by the time the E4 reality TV show returned for its 23rd series last month, Victoria had slipped effortlessly back into her glamorous London life — with a daughter, Gaia-Grace, in tow.
She spoke of her misfortunes in an awkward conversation with fellow cast member Tabitha Willett.
Asked: ‘Where’s Gaia’s dad?’, she replied with a nervous laugh: ‘He’s incarcerated right now, like awaiting sentencing. It’s financial, white- collar stuff. Unfortunately he’s being held in a place which is like maximum security. I’ve only seen him once since all of this has happened, and he was shackled.’
She also spoke of visiting him in the Brooklyn prison where Ghislaine Maxwell is also awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of trafficking underage girls.
Joking that he looked good in his prison uniform, Victoria added orange ‘is not really his colour — he was in a sort of khaki jumpsuit. It has a collar at least’.
As one of the poshest of the posh stars of TV series Made In Chelsea, Victoria Baker-Harber is no stranger to the scandalous relationships of the upper classes. Pictured: Inigo Philbrick being arrested
The eldest of three children born to commercial lawyer and former Olympic sailer Michael Baker-Harber and his Australian property-developer wife Anna, socialite Victoria — who was born and brought up in Chelsea and has a holiday home in the Bahamas — is something of an expert in fashion no-nos.
An alumnus of the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, she also attended one of the few private universities in the UK, Regent’s University in London. She went on to create her own swimwear range, called Elle-en-Jette, saying she took Chanel as her inspiration.
So fastidious is she about appearances she reportedly even spritzes her pets with perfume to make them smell nice. It’s all a world away from prison jumpsuits.
When Inigo and Victoria met through mutual friends in the summer of 2016, he was in a relationship with Argentine art dealer Francisca Mancini, who had just given birth to their daughter and was already the rising star of the London art world.
According to friends, Victoria nicknamed him ‘Fruit’ because of the forbidden nature of their romance.
Despite this, however, on many levels, Inigo appeared a perfect match for the yacht-loving fashionista — he is the son of American artist-turned-museum director Harry Philbrick and his ex-wife Jane, a Harvard-educated writer and artist.
Born in East London, where his artistic parents were living in an abandoned warehouse, Inigo grew up in Manhattan and Connecticut, and in 2005 followed in his father’s footsteps by studying art curation at Goldsmiths, University of London.
In 2010, he was taken on as an intern at the prestigious White Cube gallery in London. Gallery founder Jay Jopling — later one of Inigo’s victims — was impressed by the bright, sophisticated young man.
In 2013, with Jopling’s financial assistance, Inigo opened his own gallery and consultancy in London’s Mayfair, specialising in post-war and contemporary art.
A second Inigo Philbrick gallery opened in Miami in 2018. While some clients were wealthy collectors, wanting art to hang on the walls of their homes, he increasingly focused on those known in the art world as ‘specullectors’, who purchase artworks, or a percentage of them, as an investment.
Inigo would then help these investors re-sell the artworks at a higher price, taking a share of the profits. As is the norm in this line of dealing, the artworks themselves remained in secure storage facilities — meaning clients were completely in the dark when Inigo began selling works to several parties, or over-selling shares in paintings that investors never actually set eyes on.
Nothing, however, can compare with the real-life drama awaiting the 33-year-old socialite and swimsuit designer in a New York federal court next week, where her art dealer boyfriend (and father of her 18-month-old daughter) is due to be sentenced for one of the biggest art market frauds in history
Until his life of crime unravelled in 2019, Inigo was the toast of the art world, a charming bon viveur who, with Victoria on his arm, cut a swathe through London — and New York — society.
Flush with cash, the couple flew around the world on private jets, spending summers in Ibiza and winters in the ski resort of St Moritz.
Inigo wore £5,000 suits, hand-made shoes, a belt with a diamond lodged in the pin and a £48,000 watch. He drank £5,000 bottles of wine and had an account at Mayfair restaurant Cipriani so that dinner companions would think he was too important to need to produce a credit card.
But throughout this time, he was lying to clients about ownership and prices of artworks, borrowing money against art he didn’t own and misappropriating sales proceeds, as well as forging contracts and documents to try to cover his tracks.
One of his friends, art writer and dealer Kenny Schachter, who also lost around £1.4 million to Inigo, has described how the young impresario would sell him an artwork for ‘around a million dollars’ and then re-sell it to another client for a higher amount and ‘we’d both pocket a few hundred thousand’. He said: ‘His rationale was “these people are rich, so screw them”.’
The piece that brought down his house-of-cards existence was a 2012 painting of Pablo Picasso by Rudolf Stingel, a photo-realist painter from northern Italy.
In 2015, Inigo signed a deal with financial services provider Fine Art Partners (FAP) to sell it to them for £5.8 million as part of an agreement to re-sell the work together at Christie’s for a supposedly guaranteed price of £7.5 million.
Such guarantees are a marketing strategy used by major auction houses to lure valuable artworks away from competitors.
Yet he went on to sell the same work twice again — including to an investment firm, Guzzini Properties, for $6 million (£4.9 million).
However, disastrously for Inigo, when the painting was finally auctioned in March 2019, it realised only £5.3 million.
When FAP got in touch with Christie’s, the auction house told them that not only had they never signed a guarantee, but the painting had not even been brought to auction by Inigo.
FAP launched a lawsuit in Florida civil court in October 2019, with other clients launching their own legal actions in the U.S. and the UK, where Inigo’s assets were frozen by a judge.
But by the time it came for the dealer to appear in court, he had closed his gallery, disconnected his phones and disappeared. In her statement to the court, in which she describes herself as Inigo’s fiancée, Victoria describes them leaving the U.S. together.
‘On the advice of a Miami- based lawyer and with civil lawsuits being filed, I made the suggestion we go to Australia to visit my grandmother.’
She added: ‘I was aware he had nothing material left to offer me, but his kindness and consistency were enough to cement my choice and temporarily leave the world I knew behind.’
The couple arrived in Vanuatu in January 2020 and rented a small house. Victoria said that while it may have looked as though they were ‘fleeing and hiding’, they had openly flown back and forth to Australia and travelled to New Caledonia and Japan.
Locals on the island say Inigo didn’t hide his identity and, according to one source, stood out in a place where most expats tended to be ‘hippies’. He used his mobile phone constantly, took tennis lessons booked under his own name and visited the same coffee shop each morning. He even started rescuing stray dogs, and he and Victoria adopted one of their own.
A former neighbour in Vanuatu, Karen Adams, describes Inigo as ‘engaging, considerate, kind and fun’ and, in a statement provided to the court pleading for leniency for him, said she and her husband had enjoyed many lunches and dinners with him and Victoria.
She adds: ‘Inigo is a kind and extremely generous person. He wants everyone around him to be happy. He finds joy in the simplest of things: a beautiful tree, a kaleidoscopic sunset, a cheap but exquisite bottle of Sancerre picked out at the Chinese takeaway.’
Philbrick (pictured) admitted conning investors out of millions of pounds and faces a maximum jail sentence of 20 years
Inigo and Victoria were walking through the artisanal markets of the Vanuatuan capital Port Vila on June 10, 2020, when several vehicles screeched to a halt beside them.
Local uniformed police and undercover officers grabbed Inigo, secured his wrists with zip ties and bundled him into a car.
Pregnant Victoria insisted on going with him, and was put in the back of a separate vehicle, while her two mobile phones were confiscated. The convoy of cars raced to the airport where a Gulfstream jet was waiting.
‘The trauma and shock felt like a death,’ Victoria writes in her statement to the U.S. court, in which she also pleads that her lover be treated with leniency.
‘My world stopped in June 2020. I do not know how I have managed. I am desperately lonely and have moments when I question how I will carry on. Inigo is the love of my life and I simply cannot function without him.’
Victoria pictured with Jamie Laing (right) having lunch during an episode of Made in Chelsea in 2017
Inigo pleaded guilty to ‘wire fraud’ and ‘aggravated identity theft’ at a New York criminal court in November last year, where a picture of the louche world in which he operated emerged.
Documents said he had a habit of ‘drinking alcohol at lunch’ and would continue ‘throughout the day’. The court heard the serial swindler also took cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine because ‘this is how art deals are done’.
His supporters largely blame his downfall on the greed and excess endemic in the unregulated global art market, which in 2021 was worth around £53 billion. According to his lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman: ‘While his actions were criminal in nature, he’s part of an industry sick from top to bottom, where this sort of behaviour is sadly commonplace.’
Inigo’s wealthy victims, however, say jail is no more than he deserves.
Speaking to the Mail this week, Judd Grossman, a U.S. attorney and art law specialist representing several of those defrauded, said: ‘The thing that gets overlooked in a lot of fraud cases like this, involving victims who are sophisticated high-net-worth individuals, is that it’s more than just the loss of money.
‘He betrayed their trust and that really is a life-altering event. It’s emotional. You feel violated.’
One of his victims, German art dealer Daniel Tümpel, describes Inigo as a ‘stone-cold criminal, driven by greed and the wish to finance his lavish lifestyle.’
The home of Philbrick’s registered offices in Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. The art dealer fraudulently lived a lavish lifestyle
For the time being, Inigo is being held at the infamous Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn. He has had Covid twice in prison and complained inmates had been fed only luncheon meat and peanut butter sandwiches for weeks on end because of lockdowns.
While he is scheduled to be sentenced for his crimes on May 23, he also faces numerous civil lawsuits from investors who paid millions for artworks or shares of artworks of which they never took possession.
But the big question for Made In Chelsea fans is what the future holds for his relationship with Victoria — not to mention the baby girl she says was ‘born from love’ whom her father has yet to meet.
As she put it herself in the first episode of this year’s Made In Chelsea series: ‘I just have to get through to the next part and I can’t wait for the day when I can have my little family back.’