US blocks Pablo Picasso sale
US authorities have blocked the sale of a work of art by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso at the request of the Italian government.
The Department of Justice announced that it had retained Compotier et tasse (1909), which was to be sold privately. The work is valued at $11.5 million (approximately £7.4 million).
It has been blocked as part of an ongoing investigation concerning the painting’s owner Gabriella Amati, who along with her late husband Angelo Maj, have been charged by the Italian Public Prosecutors’ Office in Milan with embezzlement and fraud.
Documents filed in the Italian criminal proceedings claim that the duo, in partnership with others, put in place systems that siphoned off tax receipts of companies under their control, which should have gone to the City of Naples.
Both the US and Italian government claim that the work was purchased with money that was illegally accrued, obtained as it was through the alleged criminal activities. The painting is now in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the principal investigative arm of the country’s Department of Homeland Security.
“Restraining this valuable artwork is an effort to help recover some of the estimated $44 million (£28.5 million) that this couple stole from the tax-paying citizens of Naples,” commented ICE director John Morton.
“We are very pleased that our investigation has led to the recovery of this painting that is so significant to the Italian people. This is an example of the fine work of our HSI cultural repatriation special agents. We will continue our efforts to return stolen antiquities to their rightful owners.”
HSI refers to Homeland Security Investigations, which is a special directorate under the remit of ICE. It is described as “critical asset” in the fight against the illegal movement of people and goods domestically and internationally and its investigators were integral in the results outlined above.
Over the last six years, it has returned more than 7,150 artefacts to 26 countries, including paintings from Austria, France, Poland and Germany, and repatriated 15th to 18th-century manuscripts from Italy and Peru.
Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney-general for the criminal division of the Department of Homeland Security, said that everyone was pleased with thework done to find and secure this work of art.
“Restraining this Picasso painting is yet another example of the Justice Department’s close partnership with law enforcement around the world,” she expanded.
“Our asset forfeiture section is committed to finding and securing every last penny of criminal proceeds and putting those ill-gotten proceeds back in the hands of victims, regardless of where they reside.”
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