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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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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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