Corruption Probe Benefits Museum

CURTIBA, BRAZIL -- There’s a touch of intrigue about the 15 works of art occupying two rooms in the Oscar Niemeyer Museum here: All were seized in the course of the biggest corruption scandal in the nation’s history..

And the display is about to get bigger. The museum, in Brazil’s south, has received more than 200 pieces seized by police on suspicion of being used to launder money.

Among them are creations by Salvador Dali and internationally acclaimed Brazilian contemporary artists such as Miguel Rio Branco.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network can view these seized works which are being publically displayed in the museum galleries.

Because the Carwash corruption investigation, involving more than a decade of bribes and kickbacks at state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, is centered in Curitiba, the local museum became a beneficiary.

Authorities needed an institution with space and expertise to store all the seized art.

Publicity from the show will help expand the museum’s audience, said Juliana Vosnika, the institution’s chief executive officer.

Designed by Brazil’s most famous architect, the museum looks like a gigantic eye perched atop a rectangular yellow column, with a signature Niemeyer ramp snaking up to the entrance.

A show is scheduled to open April 14 that will feature about 50 pieces received from the police, including paintings by Brazilian artists Emiliano Di Cavalcanti and Ibere Camargo.

Art Laundering

In the Carwash scheme -- so-called because money was allegedly funneled through a gas station -- Petrobras executives allegedly took bribes from a cartel of builders and shared the proceeds with politicians.

The case, involving at least 4.1 billion reais ($1.3 billion) in alleged graft and dozens of arrests, has transfixed Brazil and contributed to a decline in President Dilma Rousseff’s approval rating, which at 13 percent is the lowest of any Brazilian president in 15 years.

Prosecutors say the scandal has unveiled the use of art to launder money and cover the trail of bribes.

On March 16, police seized 131 pieces, including a lithograph by Catalan artist Joan Miro, after entering the apartment of Renato Duque, Petrobras’s former head of engineering and services.

Duque is in preventive detention in Curitiba. He has denied engaging in any wrongdoing.

The museum received Duque’s art collection, the third group of works seized in the Carwash probe. Under Brazilian law, possessions can be confiscated by authorities during investigations and auctioned off if suspects are convicted. The works are being appraised by museum curators.

Concealed Valuations

While Duque valued his art collection at 80,000 reais in tax documents, one of his pieces was bought for more than double that price.

The police have asked about 20 galleries and art dealers to explain transactions involving seized artworks,

A piece, seized in the house of businessman Zwi Skornicki, has been valued at as much as 3 million reais.

A spokeswoman for Skornicki, who is under investigation for involvement in alleged bribery, said in e-mailed comments that all his seized art was legally acquired and required taxes were paid.

The collection’s combined value doesn’t exceed 500,000 reais including a market value of 90,000 reais for the Amilcar de Castro piece, the spokeswoman said, adding that he “vehemently” denies any involvement in the Carwash scandal.

“The advantage of owning these works is that their value is very difficult to estimate. You can declare them for 1,000 reais but in fact they are worth 1 million," declared an investigator.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video offers a comprehensive tour of the Oscar Niemeyer Museum.