MANHATTAN (CN) – U.S. customs interrupted the sale in New York of a Pablo Picasso painting “Compotier et tasse” with plans to return the 1909 work to Italy, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
Italy had requested a restraining order on the piece in connection with its ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution of its owner, Gabriella Amati.
Prosecutors in Milan had charged Amati and her late husband, Angelo Maj, with embezzlement and fraudulent bankruptcy offenses, the Justice Department said.
Amati and Maj are accused of collaborating with a Naples public official on various schemes to misappropriate city tax receipts by companies the couple controlled.
Their alleged schemes to embezzle Naples’ tax revenue included “the use of fraudulent service contracts, forged accounting records, inflated operational expenses and fraudulently claimed refunds to Naples taxpayers,” the Justice Department said.
The couple ultimately caused Naples to sustain $44 million in losses by transferring taxes that were collected for the city to the couple’s own bank accounts, according to charges.
Special agents with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement located and recovered the Picasso painting in New York on May 21, 2013, where it was being offered for a private $11.5 million sale, the Justice Department said.
A month later, the U.S. government applied to enforce Italy’s restraining order on the painting.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero granted the U.S. government’s application and issued a restraining order prohibiting the removal, sale or disposition of the Picasso painting from the court’s jurisdiction.
The government expects to repatriate the Picasso to Italy.
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