Renowned violinist ordered by court to pay ex-pupil in £80k Landolfi violin dispute

5 February 2021, 17:09 | Updated: 5 February 2021, 17:18

Ruzica West owed £15,000 by former violin professor after taking him to court
Ruzica West owed £15,000 by former violin professor after taking him to court. Picture: Champion News

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Mateja Marinkovic will pay his ex-pupil £15,000 after the court found he underpaid her for an 18th-century Landolfi violin, which he had offered to pay for with “cash hidden inside a piano in Belgrade”.

A music teacher has won a court battle against her former violin professor, over an 18th-century Landolfi violin she sold him in 2016.

As a student in 2015, Ruzica West needed medical treatment but had fallen into financial difficulties, so decided to sell her instrument. She turned to her trusted former tutor at the Purcell School in Hertfordshire, renowned violinist Mateja Marinkovic, who allegedly offered her £40,000 for the instrument, plus £20,000 for her prized bow.

The court heard that West declined the offer because the former Royal Academy of Music associate said she would need to travel to Belgrade to collect money hidden inside a piano.

But a year later, the court heard, West urgently needed the money. She negotiated again with her teacher, and they made a deal whereby West would receive £26,000 in cash, plus a 19th-century French violin her teacher said was worth “over £12,000”.

The sale was done, but West soon learned the French violin Mateja had offered alongside the cash was only worth between £1,500 and £2,000, and she claimed she had been short-changed.

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West took Marinkovic to court last year, where he was accused of a breach of contract. The Central London County Court heard that West only received £26,000 in cash but believed she should have been owed £40,000.

Marinkovic denied owing West more money and dismissed her claims as “fabrications, contradictions and lies”. He said he had paid an agreed sum which he claimed was more than she would’ve received at any auction.

A London judge said on Thursday that the former student should be paid £15,000 by the professor, who made a “false representation” during the deal.

Marinkovic said that as a professional musician he believed the sound of the French violin was worth “over £12,000” but had never had it formally valued.

However, judge Ian Avent ruled that the violinist “knew very well” the instrument was not worth as much, but duped Ms West into believing it was, in order to gain her Landolfi.

“The most obvious thing to have done would have been for Prof Marinkovic to simply transfer this money to Miss West’s English bank account and not require her to travel to, and open an account in, Belgrade.

“The fact that he did not apparently even advance that suggestion reinforces the suspicion, in my view, that in some way these monies were tainted,” he said.

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“What I find that the abortive 2015 sale of the Landolfi demonstrated was that Prof Marinkovic was quite willing, and able, to pay £40,000 for the Landolfi at that time and I take it from that he must therefore have considered the Landolfi to have been worth that money,” the judge continued.

“Accordingly, I find that despite his protestations to the contrary, Prof Marinkovic cannot have had a genuine belief that this was the value of the French violin and therefore knowingly made a false representation or was otherwise reckless as to the truth of that statement.

“The agreement was for the sum of £40,000; it was incumbent upon Prof Marinkovic to pay that sum; he was bound to do so, and he has not done so,” he concluded.

Marinkovic, who represented himself at the trial in December but was not present for the judgement, was ordered to pay the £14k he owes Ms West, plus £1,139 in interest.

Ms West now works as a music teacher, after giving up on a career as a professional violinist due to problems with her jaw.