Spanish billionaire’s jail term doubled over ‘smuggled’ Picasso

Jaime Botin also saw his fine increased to more than $100m.

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Picasso's, Head of a Young Woman, painted in 1906, has been valued at more than $28m [French Customs Office/AFP]

Madrid, Spain – A billionaire member of the Santander banking dynasty who tried to smuggle a Pablo Picasso masterpiece out of Spain in his luxury yacht has had his jail term doubled and fine increased.

Jaime Botin, 83, must now serve three years in prison, after a court in Madrid increased the financial penalty from 54.4 million euros ($57.9m) to 91.7 million euros ($101.3m).

In a highly unusual move, the punishment was made more severe after prosecutors noticed a technical error in the original sentence last month.

The verdict came nearly five years after the Picasso painting, Head of a Young Woman, was seized by police who boarded the former banker’s schooner off the coast of Corsica.

Botin, the uncle of Ana Botin, Banco Santander’s executive chairwoman, denied he wanted to sell the Picasso abroad.

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However, a court ruled the former chairman of the Bankinter bank broke the law by taking the painting outside Spanish jurisdiction after it was listed as a national heritage item.

Lawyers for Botin, who rejected the charge of exporting the work of art and breaching an export ban, are to appeal.

In 2012, Spanish authorities began to monitor Botin’s activities regarding the early Picasso work, which is valued at 26 million euros ($28.7m), after Christie’s auction house asked for an export licence in order to put the painting up for sale.

The Spanish government refused the licence and imposed a national protection order on the painting, banning its owner from taking it out of the country.

When the painting was discovered on board Botin’s 213-foot yacht, named, Adix, Botin denied he was trying to smuggle it abroad for sale. Instead, he said he was transporting it to Geneva for safe storage.

“Despite being fully aware of the prohibition, the accused took the painting on board his schooner, the Adix moored in Valencia, with the aim of removing it from Spain,” a judge ruled in a trial last year.

The court found that the painting was now the property of the Spanish state, adding “anyone with any link to Spain will realise that the work is part of Spanish heritage”.

Who is going to buy a work of art in Spain, given the legal uncertainty generated by this sentence?

Jaime Botin

During the trial, Botin’s defence argued that the painting was never on Spanish soil, except on rare occasions, such as during his daughter’s wedding or when he brought it ashore to have it framed.

Botin’s fortune is estimated at $1.7bn because of his holdings in Bankinter, according to Forbes magazine.

He is reported to have a floating art collection on the Adix which includes works by JMW Turner and Camille Corot.

Spanish media reports suggested Botin attempted to negotiate a deal with the Spanish government, offering to exhibit the work in Spain in exchange for a lighter sentence.

If Botin’s appeal is not successful, there is a chance he may serve time behind bars – but he currently remains at liberty until the hearing.

Head of a Young Woman is one of a few existing paintings which Spanish-born Picasso painted in 1906 in the village of Gosol in Catalonia, where he spent time with his lover, Fernande Olivier. The painting comes from Picasso’s “pink period” and features a woman with long, black hair.

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In a statement, Botin said: “The consequence of the sentence is that any ship, yacht or vessel that moors, docks or anchors in Spanish waters and carries on board goods which the Spanish state unilaterally considers integral to its historical heritage, is liable to be seized by Spain, which is simply unacceptable.

“Who is going to buy a work of art in Spain, given the legal uncertainty generated by this sentence?”

A source in the Spanish Ministry of Culture, who asked not want to be named, told Al Jazeera: “Like many other European countries, Spain has a law which means items of cultural interest can be declared the property of the state to stop them being sold abroad and to preserve them for the nation. The economic value of the painting or sculpture is not what is important; it is the cultural value to the nation.”

Banco Santander is one of the largest banks in Europe and has interests in Latin America and the United States.

Source: Al Jazeera