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National treasure Picasso work seized on boat heading for Switzerland

A handout picture taken on July 31, 2015 of the seized painting 'Head of a Young Woman' by Spanish painter Picasso, at the Customs offices in Calvi

(AFP)

A painting by Pablo Picasso estimated at more than €25 million (CHF26.5 million) and considered “unexportable” by the Spanish authorities has been seized by French customs officials on a boat moored in the French island of Corsica. 

“An attempt to export to Switzerland a picture by Picasso, Head of a Young Woman, through the customs office of Bastia [a town in Corsica] last Thursday attracted the attention of French officials,” customs agents said in a statement to French news agency AFP on Tuesday. 

On Friday, customs officials from the Corsican town of Calvi “boarded the ship which was moored in the marina at Calvi and demanded the documents relating to the painting which it was transporting”. 

According to the statement, the captain was able to produce only one document assessing the painting plus a ruling, in Spanish, from May 2015 made by the Audienca Nacional, a Spanish high court which has jurisdiction over all Spanish territory and international crimes which come under the competence of Spanish courts. 

This ruling confirmed that the painting was a Spanish national treasure which could never leave Spain. 

‘Unexportable’ 

“Head of a Young Woman” is the property of Jaime Botin, a well-known Spanish banker whose family played a role in the founding of the bank Santander in 1857. 

According to AFP, customs officials said Botin, 79, was not on board the boat, which is owned by a company in which he holds shares and which was flying a British flag. 

In addition, the request to export the painting, registered in Bastia, was not made in his name. 

A first request to take the painting out of Spain – to London – had been made in December 2012. 

The Spanish culture minister opposed this and in 2015 the Audienca Nacional ruled the work was “unexportable”, since it was considered of national cultural interest and therefore not allowed to leave Spanish territory. 

The French authorities are now waiting for a request from Spain for the return of the work.

swissinfo.ch with agencies

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