Spanish authorities seize a 'contraband' Picasso at Ibiza airport
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Spanish authorities seize a 'contraband' Picasso at Ibiza airport
Picasso’s drawing “Trois Personnages” was found with an invoice from a Zurich art gallery for $464,000. Photo: Spanish Treasure Ministry.

MADRID.- Officials in Spain seized a drawing believed to be by Pablo Picasso valued at more than $460,000 from a passenger who failed to declare it to airport customs, the Tax Agency and Civil Guard in Spain said in a statement Monday.

The traveler, whose name was not released, arrived in Ibiza, Spain, from Switzerland on July 5 and tried to smuggle the 1966 drawing, called “Trois Personnages,” in his luggage, according to Spanish officials.

Spanish authorities said customs officials in Switzerland had tipped them off about a passenger who was “carrying a work of art in circumstances” that Swiss officials considered “suspicious.” The man told authorities he had nothing to declare when he was questioned after he landed at Ibiza Airport.

When he tried to pass through a green lane at the airport, customs officers searched his luggage and found the sketch signed by Picasso, authorities said.

The traveler, according to investigators, then claimed the work was a copy and presented a handwritten invoice for 1,500 Swiss francs, or about $1,550.

But during a search of the luggage, investigators found a second invoice from an art gallery in Zurich in the amount of 450,000 Swiss francs, or about $464,000, for the sale of “Trois Personnages” (Three Figures), authorities said.

Picasso, who was born in Málaga, Spain, became one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and his works fetch considerable sums. In May, Picasso’s “Femme Nue Couchée,” estimated at more than $60 million, sold for $67.5 million with fees at Sotheby’s.

Imports such as the artwork brought to Spain from outside the European Union are subject to customs duties.

Spanish authorities said in a statement: “Since this is a property that surpasses the 150,000 euros and which has been introduced without a customs declaration despite the specific questions of the authorities in relation to whether the passenger had anything to declare, a presumed crime of contraband would have been committed.”

After the incident, the sketch was presented for inspection to the Ibiza Museum of Contemporary Art’s director, who reported that the artwork was an original Picasso and that its market value corresponded with the price of the Swiss gallery invoice.

Spanish authorities said experts would complete a more exhaustive analysis of the artwork to determine its source and that it would remain under a court’s supervision until the investigation was completed.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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