Was Jiri Frel a Spy?

Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino undertook a Freedom of Information Act request for the FBI’s file on former Getty Curator Jiri Frel, and posted the FBI file. The FBI was very interested in Frel, sparking rumors over whether Arthur Houghton was tasked with keeping “an eye on” Frel.

A spy?

Espionage allegations aside, the Frel file is a fascinating study of a complicated personality. It hints at Frel’s famously chaotic love life. More importantly, it demonstrates how adept the charismatic polymath, connoisseur and political shape-shifter was at manipulating situations and spinning answers for his own survival. Colleagues at the Getty knew Frel as an Old World snob who constantly complained about America, its broken education system, its obsession with pop culture, its hot dogs and unpalatable mustard. Indeed, years later, when he was caught conducting a massive tax fraud scheme and falsifying provenance for million-dollar fakes at the Getty, Frel left America and never looked back. Yet during his 1971 FBI interview, the reporting agent noted how Frel gushed that “he considers the United States to be in his words ‘a great and good country.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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