Spain court doubles jail term for Picasso-smuggling banker

Art Daily
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A tourist takes pictures of the yacht Adix, owned by Spanish Santander banking group and flying a British flag, which sails off Testa beach on August 4, 2015, in Pianottoli Caldarello, Corsica, four days after French customs seized a Picasso on board considered a national treasure by Spain. AFP PHOTO / PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA.

MADRID(AFP).- 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.

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”.