Justice department seizes $11.5m Picasso on behalf of Italian government as widow who tried to sell it is charged with $44m tax fraud

  • 1909 painting ‘Fruit Bowl and Cup’ seized before private sale in New York
  • Widow allegedly bought Picasso with taxes paid by Naples residents

By Jessica Jerreat

An $11.5 million Picasso has been seized by the Justice Department on behalf of Italy because the widow who was trying to sell it has been charged with embezzlement in Naples.

It is alleged that the 1909 painting, which was being offered for private sale in New York, was bought with money made through criminal activity.

Gabriella Amati, who was selling Compotier et Tasse, or Fruit Bowl and Cup, is facing charges of embezzling $44 million in tax paid by Naples residents.

Seized: The Picasso, worth $11.5 million is being held in New York on behalf of the Italian governmentSeized: The Picasso, worth $11.5 million is being held in New York on behalf of the Italian government

Italian courts allege that the widow and her late husband Angelo Maj were involved in a scheme that set up fraudulent service contracts, forged accounting records and had inflated operational expenses, according to Yahoo.

It was claimed that between 2001 and 2009, taxes paid for waste removal and other services in Naples were embezzled.

At the time of the couple’s arrest, along with three other people alleged to be involved with the scheme in 2011, authorities seized valuable paintings but, according to Corriere Della Sera, a Picasso was not found.

Italian prosecutors allege that the couple used money made from their criminal activity to buy the painting.

 Customs officials seized the painting after it was sent to New York to be offered for private sale on May 21. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero then signed a restraining order at the request of the Italian government.

‘We are pleased to have played a role in securing this valuable work of art by the celebrated artist, Pablo Picasso, on behalf of the Italian government,’ US Attorney Preet Bharara said.

The restraining order prevents the Picasso from being sold or moved from the court’s jurisdiction.

Charges: Naples, where the owner of the Picasso is accused of embezzling $44 million in taxCharges: Naples, where the owner of the Picasso is accused of embezzling $44 million in tax

‘Restraining this valuable artwork is an effort to help recover some of the estimated $44 million that this couple stole from the tax-paying citizens of Naples,’ Immigration and Customs director John Morton said.

‘Our commitment to “taking the profit out of crime” transcends national boundaries and is the operating principle of our asset forfeiture program.’ Mr Morton told BBC News.

U.S. officials are working closely with courts in Milan to arrange for the Picasso to be returned to Italy.

‘Our asset forfeiture section is committed to finding and securing every last penny of criminal proceeds and putting those ill-gotten proceeds back in the hands of victims, regardless of where they reside,’ Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman said.
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