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Spanish banker gets jail term for trying to smuggle Picasso masterpiece out of Spain on yacht

A Spanish court has sentenced a former top banker to 18 months in jail for trying to smuggle a Picasso painting deemed a national treasure out of the country on a sailing yacht.

Spanish banker gets jail term for trying to smuggle Picasso masterpiece out of Spain on yacht
Head of a Young Woman by Pablo Picasso Photo: AFP

The court also fined ex-Bankinter head Jaime Botín €52.4 million ($58.4 million), according to the Madrid court ruling issued on January 14th which was made public on Thursday.   

It awarded ownership of the work, “Head of a Young Girl”, to the Spanish state.

Botin, 83, is unlikely to go to prison as in Spain first offenders for non-violent crimes are usually spared jail time for sentences of less than two years.   

French customs seized the work, which is estimated to be worth €26 million, in July 2015 on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, halting what they said was an attempt by Botin to export it to Switzerland to sell it.

His lawyers argued at the time that he was sending it for storage in a vault in Geneva but the court found him guilty of “smuggling cultural goods” for removing the painting “from national territory without a permit”.

Botin, whose family are one of the founders of the Santander banking group, had been trying since 2012 to obtain authorisation to export the painting.   

However Spain's culture ministry refused the request because there was “no similar work on Spanish territory” from the same period in Picasso's life.    

In 2015, a top Spanish court sided with the authorities and declared the work of art “unexportable” on the grounds that it was of “cultural interest”.    

Picasso painted it during his pre-Cubist phase in Gosol, Catalonia, in 1906. It was bought by Botin in London in 1977.

Botin's lawyers had argued that the work should not be subjected to an export ban since it was acquired in Britain and was on board a British-flagged vessel when it was seized.

When customs officials boarded the yacht, its captain only presented two documents — one of which was the court ruling ordering that the painting be kept in Spain.

The painting is currently stored at the Reina Sofia modern art museum in Madrid, which houses Picasso's large anti-war masterpiece “Guernica”.

READ MORE: Banking family's Picasso seized on Corsica boat

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Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.

mata-mua_gauguin-madrid

In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.

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