Banker Defends Picasso Export

MADRID -- Lawyers for a Spanish banker accused of trying to illegally export a Picasso worth 25 million euros claimed Friday that the painting is officially British and can be sold abroad.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network have been following this story which addresses European government oversight of important private artworks held there.

The painting, "Head of a Young Woman", was seized by French customs officials a week ago from the private yacht, Adix, pictured here, which has been sailing off the French island of Corsica.

The 1906 work is considered a national treasure in Pablo Picasso's native Spain and was subject to an export ban.

The owner of the yacht and the Picasso is Jaime Botin, a well-known Spanish banker whose family founded the Santander banking group. He is accused of trying to illegally export the painting to Switzerland.

But his lawyers said Friday that the picture had been painted abroad and acquired in London in 1977, and was therefore British, not Spanish -- and that Spanish authorities have no right to ban its export.

"The work was painted and purchased abroad and has always remained there. As a consequence, it cannot be exported (from Spain), either legally or illegally," the lawyers said in a statement sent to AFP.

"For years the painting has been kept permanently on a British-flagged boat -- which effectively constitutes foreign territory, even when docked in Spanish ports," they argued.

But Javier Garcia Fernandez, a constitutional law specialist at Madrid's Complutense University, said there was a "huge contradiction" between this claim and the fact that Botin had tried to apply for an export license for the painting, which is valued at more than 25 million euros ($27 million dollars).

Botin had been trying since 2012 to obtain authorization to export the painting, but the culture ministry refused to grant permission, a decision backed up by one of Spain's highest courts in May.

When customs officials boarded the yacht last week, its captain could only present two documents concerning the painting -- one of which was the court judgement ordering that it be kept in Spain.

"If they say the painting was bought abroad and has always stayed there, why did they ask for an export permit? It's a huge contradiction," Spanish news website ElConfidencial quoted Fernandez as saying.

"From the moment you apply for authorization to export a good, that is then denied and has been taken before a Spanish court, there is recognition that it belongs to Spain."

The painting was completed during Picasso's so-called Rose period and Spanish officials argue that it is "the only work of its kind" in the master's home country.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video explores the evolution of Picasso's painting of women.