Customs seize Swiss billionaire’s artworks over tax row

Around 30 paintings were reportedly taken away from the Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich Keystone

Swiss customs authorities have seized artworks belonging to billionaire Urs Schwarzenbach from his five-star Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich linked to a row over unpaid tax.

This content was published on March 7, 2017 - 21:53

The customs office carried out the raid on Tuesday as part of legal investigations into the Swiss financier, who is alleged to have imported artwork without declaring them. He denies the accusations.

The raid, which was reported by the Tages-AnzeigerExternal link and NZZ onlineExternal link sites, was confirmed by a spokesman at the customs office.

The customs office would not confirm the number of artworks seized and their value but Tages-Anzeiger said around 30 paintings were taken away worth around CHF50 million ($49.4 million). NZZ reported that a painting by Fernando Botero, a sculpture by Joan Miró as well as works by Jean Dubuffet and Niki de Saint Phalle were removed.

The art was reportedly seized to cover the outstanding payment of VAT on works which were not declared to customs. Last December the Federal Court rejected an appeal by the billionaire art collector, who contested tax arrears claimed by the Swiss authorities.

Schwarzenbach’s lawyer says the Swiss customs overreacted. Entering the Dolder hotel and taking away the most beautiful works of art from the hotel reception and restaurant for CHF12 million in VAT is completely exaggerated, he told the Swiss News Agency.

However, this was not his first brush with Swiss customs. In 2012 Swiss customs authorities opened an investigation suspecting the billionaire of importing artwork illegally. The probe concluded in October 2016 that he had effectively dodged duties worth CHF10 million, which he was ordered to repay, along with a CHF4 million fine, several Sunday newspapers reported. A Swiss finance ministry spokesman confirmed the reports to the French news agency AFP.

The 68-year-old denies any intentional wrongdoing and contests the penalty. The case is before a local Swiss court.

Schwarzenbach had brought at least 123 works of art into Switzerland without declaring them, with some ending up on the walls of his luxury Zurich Dolder Grand hotel, the papers said.

Last year the Swiss finance magazine Bilanz estimated Schwarzenbach’s fortune at CHF1.25 billion.

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