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Picasso worth €25m seized from British-registered yacht off Corsica

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French customs seize Picasso’s Head of a Young Woman belonging to Spanish banking billionaire from yacht in Corsican port of Calvi on grounds it is a Spanish “national treasure” and not allowed out of the country.

A Pablo Picasso painting worth more than €25 million and considered a Spanish “national treasure” has been seized from a British-registered yacht moored off Corsica, French authorities have confirmed.

Head of a Young Woman was seized onboard a vessel off Calvi on the west coast of the Mediterranean island following “an attempt to export (the work) to Switzerland”, French customs officials confirmed in a statement.

According to Corsican media, it was about to be flown to Switzerland by private jet.

The work Picasso painted in 1906 and valued at “more than €25 million” is the property of Spanish billionaire Jaime Botin, the largest shareholder of Bankinter and whose great grandfather founded Spain’s largest bank, Santander. Mr Botin reportedly bought the painting in 1977 at the Marlborough Fine Art Fair in London for his personal collection.

He has a stake in the company that owns the yacht where the painting was found but “was not on board at the time”.

The seizure is the latest chapter in a three-year battle by the 79-year-old billionaire, Spain’s 15th richest man according to Forbes, to take the Picasso out of Spain and auction it off in London.

Mr Botin, who was Santander’s vice president from 1999 to 2004, made a formal request in 2012 via Christie’s Iberia to definitively transfer the work from Spain to London. That request was denied by the Spanish culture ministry on the grounds that there was “no other similar work on Spanish soil”.

Mr Botin appealed the decision, arguing that the work was not technically in Spain anyway as it was hanging in a 65-metre superyacht Adix moored at the Valencia Royal Nautical Club under a British flag, and was thus under British law. He also argued he was not the direct owner, as the work was the property of the Panamanian Society Euroshipping Charter Company of which he is the largest shareholder.

The appeal was quashed with judges citing the 1982 Montego Bay Convention and stating that “the existence of a ship in a Spanish port, except in the case of military vessels, is subject to Spanish law”.

An attempt to export the painting to Switzerland on Thursday “drew the attention of French officials”, France’s customs authority said, with agents boarding the boat in the port of Calvi the following day.

According to Corsicanetinfo, the painting was due to be transferred to a specially-chartered private jet from Spain due to land at 11am in Calvi-Balagne airport last Friday “with no passengers on board”. It was then due to leave an hour later with a “package” but no passengers for Switzerland but the flight was “cancelled at the last minute”.

The work was thought to be seized from the Adix, as shipping records show that the a 14-crew, 64.85m-long schooner left Valencia in June and stopped off at Menorca before arriving off the coast of Corsica on 10 July. The vessel’s current position is off the Anse de Chevanu in southern Corsica.

The ship’s captain could only produce two documents regarding the work of art, the statement said – one of which was a May 2015 Spanish court ruling confirming that the painting was “a national treasure (which) could under no circumstances be taken out of Spain”.

The painting comes from Picasso’s so-called “Gósol period”.

Picasso, arguably the famous native of the southern Spanish city of Malaga, lived in the town of Gósol, in Catalonia, in the summer of 1906 and produced various works which influenced Cubism.

“There is no similar work that exists in Spain, making this work one of the few paintings produced by the painter during what is known as the Gósol period, the discoveries at this time strongly influenced not only Cubism but the subsequent evolution of 20th century painting,” Spain’s Board of Classification, Valuation and Export of Spanish historical patrimony advised at the time.

French customs officials are now awaiting an official Spanish request to recover the painting.

Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen talks about Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version O), (1955), which sold for $179.4 million, making it the most expensive artwork sold at auction, during a sale of 20th century art at Christie's Rockefeller Center in New York, Monday, May 11, 2015.   Experts say the once unthinkable prices are driven by artworks’ investment value and by wealthy new and established collectors seeking out the very best works.(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen talks about Pablo Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version O), (1955), which sold for $179.4 million, making it the most expensive artwork sold at auction, during a sale of 20th century art at Christie’s Rockefeller Center in New York, Monday, May 11, 2015. Experts say the once unthinkable prices are driven by artworks’ investment value and by wealthy new and established collectors seeking out the very best works.(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The market for Picasso paintings reached new heights in May when Les femmes d’Alger (Version O) smashed the world record for a painting sold at auction, fetching a fraction over $179 million (£116m) in New York.

Brooke Lampley, the head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s, said before the auction: “There is an incredible thirst in the market right now for top-quality works by renowned artists. Pablo Picasso is the most highly recognised figure in the art world today and this piece is in many ways the culmination of his career.”

This undated photo provided by the United States Department of Justice, shows a cubist painting entitled “The Hairdresser” by Pablo Picasso. Authorities say the painting worth millions of dollars was stolen in France and smuggled into the U.S. by someone who falsely labeled it as an "art craft" worth about $37 when it was shipped. U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch filed a civil forfeiture complaint Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, over the  painting. (AP Photo/U.S Department of Justice)

This undated photo provided by the United States Department of Justice, shows a cubist painting entitled “The Hairdresser” by Pablo Picasso. Authorities say the painting worth millions of dollars was stolen in France and smuggled into the U.S. by someone who falsely labeled it as an “art craft” worth about $37 when it was shipped. U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch filed a civil forfeiture complaint Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, over the painting. (AP Photo/U.S Department of Justice)

In February, a Picasso stolen from the Pompidou Centre in Paris was found by a US customs official after it was posted across the Atlantic disguised as a cheap Christmas present.

La Coiffeuse (The Hairdresser), painted in 1911, was reported stolen in 2001 when it was discovered missing from the Paris museum.

It lay hidden for the next 14 years until it turned up in Newark in December in a FedEx package from Belgium, labelled as “art craft/toy” with a stated value of $37 (£24) and with the message “Joyeux Noel” (Happy Christmas).

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Europe

Catalonia independence: Huge Spain unity rally in Barcelona

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At least 350,000 people gathered in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, for a rally against independence from Spain.

They waved Spanish and Catalan flags and carried banners saying “Together we are stronger” and “Catalonia is Spain”.

It was the largest such rally in Catalonia amid speculation that Catalan leaders will declare independence from Spain next week.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has warned he would not rule out anything “within the law” to halt Catalonian independence.

Similar rallies were held across Spain on Saturday.

The final results from last week’s disputed referendum in the wealthy north-eastern region suggested 90% of the 2.3 million people who voted backed independence. Turnout was 43%.

There have been several claims of irregularities, and many ballot boxes were seized by Spanish police.

Nearly 900 people were injured as the police, trying to enforce a Spanish court ban on the vote, attempted to disperse voters.

Thirty-three police officers were also hurt.

Police in Barcelona said 350,000 people turned out for Sunday’s rally; organisers put the figure at 950,000.

Among them were former government minister Josep Borrell, who said his fellow Catalans needed to recover their level-headedness, and nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.

“You need more than a coup plot to destroy what has been built over 500 years of history,” Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian-Spanish novelist, told the crowds.

One of those attending the rally was 72-year-old Araceli Ponze. She told Reuters: “We feel both Catalan and Spanish.

“We are facing a tremendous unknown. We will see what happens this week but we have to speak out very loudly so they know what we want.”

Similar unity rallies were held across Spain on Saturday.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is expected to address the regional parliament on Tuesday at 18:00 local time (16:00 GMT). Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended a Catalan parliament session that had been planned for Monday.

There is speculation that the parliament will declare independence unilaterally at its next sitting.

In an interview with El País newspaper, Spain’s prime minister retained the tough line he and his government have taken over the referendum.

“The government will ensure that any declaration of independence will lead to nothing,” Mariano Rajoy said.

He also said he planned to keep extra police, deployed to Catalonia before the referendum, in the region until the crisis is over.

And he rejected calls for early national elections.

Asked whether he was prepared to invoke Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, which allows the national parliament to intervene in the running of an autonomous region, Mr Rajoy said: “I don’t rule out absolutely anything that is within the law.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister who lost a referendum on independence from the UK in 2014, said on Sunday that the only way to resolve the crisis was with “both sides coming together to try to find a way forward… that respects the rule of law, democracy and the right to choose”.

On Saturday, thousands of people calling for Spanish unity attended rallies in the capital Madrid. Other demonstrations – including in Barcelona – were also held urging political dialogue.

Meanwhile, businesses have continued to announce their departure from the Catalan region amid the ongoing political uncertainty.

© 2017, Sunday Emmanuel. All rights reserved.

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Europe

Cameron issues Brexit pensions warning

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David Cameron and George Osborne warns....

David Cameron and George Osborne say they might not be able to protect spending on pensions, the NHS and defence in the long term if the UK votes to leave the EU. (more…)

© 2016, Michael Isaac. All rights reserved.

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Europe

EU referendum: Out vote ‘would risk jobs’

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Leaving the European Union would threaten jobs and put the UK’s economy at risk, business leaders from some of Britain’s biggest companies have said. (more…)

© 2016, . All rights reserved.

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