French customs service seizes Picasso in Corsica worth €26 million

The painting belongs to banker Jaime Botín, brother of former chairman of Santander Spanish authorities had prohibited the work from being taken out of Spain

Paris - Aug 04, 2015 - 15:43
The Picasso painting belonging to Jaime Botín.
The Picasso painting belonging to Jaime Botín.AFP

The French customs service announced on Tuesday morning that it intercepted a Picasso valued at €26 million in Corsica. The artwork, which was seized on Friday, belongs to the Spanish banker Jaime Botín, and was on its way to Switzerland, despite the Spanish government having prohibited the painting from being taken out of the country.

Head of a Young Woman caught the attention of customs workers in Bastia, and so they demanded that the owner of the yacht that was transporting it hand over the relevant papers.

The painting had been classed as “unique” by Spain’s Historic Heritage department

The man “was only able to show an evaluation document pertaining to the work, as well as a report written in Spanish from May 2015 by the Spanish High Court, confirming that it was a Spanish national treasure that could not be taken out of Spain under any circumstances,” a statement from the customs service reads.

According to the statement, the work belongs to Botín, who is 79, and who was not present when customs officers foiled the attempt to take the painting out of the country, which was not being carried out in his name.

Jaime Botín.
Jaime Botín.ULY MARTÍN

In May of this year, the High Court prohibited the brother of the now-deceased former executive chairman of the Santander banking group, Emilio Botín, from removing the Picasso from the country, thus backing a decision made by the Education and Culture Ministry on July 26, 2013, which established the “un-exportable” nature of the work.

The painting had been classed as “unique” by Spain’s Historic Heritage department, while the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid had pointed to its “exceptional importance.”

Botín’s lawyers argued at the High Court at the time that the work belonged to a company registered outside of Spain, Euroshipping Charter Company LTD., and not to Botín as a private individual. They added that the painting was not in Spanish territory, given that it was on a sailing boat named Adix, which was moored in the port of Valencia and carried a British flag. As such, they claimed, the work should have been subject to British law. The court, however, rejected both arguments. Botín’s defense team later appealed the decision at the Supreme Court.

Sources from the Culture Ministry have told EL PAÍS that they had consulted with the Civil Guard in order to determine the whereabouts of the painting. The Adix was subsequently intercepted last Friday in French waters off Corsica.

The French authorities are now awaiting a request from their Spanish opposites for the recovery of the work

The case originates from a request made by auction house Christie’s Ibérica to the Spanish culture secretary for the definitive export of the work to London. The Spanish Historic Heritage board denied authorization, on the basis that “such a work does not exist in Spanish territory,” arguing that it was “one of the few completed by its author within the Gósol period, when Picasso was clearly influenced by Iberian plastic arts […].”

The French authorities are now awaiting a request from their Spanish opposites for the recovery of the work, which was acquired by Botín in January 1977.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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