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PICASSO

France returns seized Picasso painting to Spain

A €25 million Pablo Picasso painting, described as a “national treasure” in Spain was back in Spanish hands on Tuesday, after French customs officers had seized it from a boat in Corsica.

France returns seized Picasso painting to Spain
Pablo Picasso's "Head of a Young Woman" is now back in Spanish hands. Photo: AFP

The Picasso painting “Head of a Young Woman” is in the possession of a Spanish delegation after a French court ordered it to be returned to Madrid.

French customs officials had seized the painting from a boat on the island of Corsica during an attempt to export it to Switzerland.

The €25 million ($27.4 million) painting “drew the attention of French officials”, the country's customs authority said in a statement, with customs agents on the French island boarding the vessel the following day.

The ship's captain could only present two documents regarding the work of art, the statement said – one of which was a May 2015 Spanish court judgement labelling the painting a work of art and ordering that it not be taken out of the country.

(French customs officers carefully handling the Picasso painting as it is returned to Spain. Photo: Douane Française)

The painting is owned by Jaime Botín, a well-known Spanish banker whose family was involved in the Santander banking group in 1857.

The 79-year-old, who was formerly the banking giant's vice chairman, was not aboard the vessel, which was owned by the company and flying a British flag, a customs authority spokesman said.

According to the spokesman, the export demand was also not in Botín's name.

An export demand was filed for the painting in December 2012 to move it to London, but was opposed by Spain's culture minister.

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ART

Spanish billionaire banking boss sees jail term doubled over smuggled Picasso

A Spanish court on Tuesday doubled the jail term handed to a former top banker for smuggling a 26-million-euro Picasso painting out of the country onboard a yacht.

Spanish billionaire banking boss sees jail term doubled over smuggled Picasso
Head of a Young Woman by Pablo Picasso Photo: AFP

Former Bankinter boss Jaime Botin, who is 83, was found guilty last month with a Madrid court sentencing him to 18 months in prison and a 52.4-million-euro fine ($58.4 million).

But in a rare turnaround two weeks later, the judge raised the sentence to three years and a 91.7-million-euro fine following what she said was an “error in the imposition of the penalty”, court documents released on Tuesday showed.   

Under the initial ruling, Botin — who also served as a top executive at Santander Bank — had not been expected to spend time behind bars as first-time offenders are usually spared jail for sentences of under two years if convicted of a non-violent crime.   

It was not immediately clear whether Botin would now be jailed, given his advanced age.

Entitled “Head of a Young Girl”, the work was painted by Picasso in Catalonia in 1906 during his pre-Cubist phase. It was purchased by Botin in London in 1977 and brought back to Spain.

Since 2012, Botin, whose family are founder members of the Santander banking group, had been trying to obtain authorisation to export the painting in order to auction it at Christie's in London.

However, the culture ministry refused on grounds there was “no similar work on Spanish territory” from the same period in Picasso's life, with its decision confirmed by Spain's National Court in May 2015, which declared it “unexportable” due to its “cultural interest”.

But barely three months later, the painting was found by French customs officers on board a yacht docked at a harbour on the island of Corsica, who found documents attesting to its value and seized it, saying it had been packaged up to be sent to Switzerland.

They also found documentation stating the painting was not to leave Spain.    

At the time, Botin's lawyers said he was transporting 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's lawyers had argued against the export ban, noting the painting was acquired in Britain and was on board a British-flagged vessel when seized.    

The painting, whose ownership has now been transferred to the Spanish state, is currently stored at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, which houses Picasso's large anti-war masterpiece “Guernica”.

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

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