The Picasso Spanish Smuggling Scandal

The Head of a Young Woman seized by officials
Source: Imgix

When you’re a billionaire there are probably very few things that will get you sent to jail, or get you handed a massive fine. After all; you’re a billionaire, and that is several million more than is needed to buy your way out of trouble. In fact, it’s even more than you can win at an online casino where jackpots of millions are paid out to lucky players quite regularly! But jail time and a fine is exactly what happened to Jaime Botín-Sanz de Sautuola y García de los Ríos, a Spanish billionaire who will be spending the next 18 months locked up…

Just kidding. He is 83 years old, which means he won’t be going to jail after all. Though, what excuse would have been used to keep him out of jail were he not 83 is anyone’s guess. Either way; Mister Botin is still going to have to pay a fine, and when you are associated with billions, you know that fine is going to be eye watering.

€52 million to be precise.

So, what terrible crime got Mister Botin such a nasty wrist slap, you’re wondering? The naughty old rascal attempted to take an extremely valuable Picasso painting overseas without permission.

Picasso Smuggling – Bad Billionaire Behaviour

The Pablo Picasso painting Head of a Young Woman is valued at around €26 million. Though, you wouldn’t guess that by looking at it, of course. Since as with most very valuable art, the general public would likely be hesitant to drop €50 on it, given that it appears to be the work of an ambitious, but talentless, high school student. Just don’t tell the art world that out loud, since you’ll be heading for the gallows.

Either way, Mister Botin apparently attempted to smuggle the painting out of Spain on his yacht. Though, to what end really is a bit of a mystery at this point, with the details of the tale more of a head scratcher than they should be.

According to an official report, it was back in 2015 that customs officials took the painting from the billionaire. He was at the French island of Corsica at the time, which is off the coasts of Spain and Italy. Spanish authorities had previously informed him that he could not export the painting without permission, given that it held cultural significance.

Looking a little deeper reveals that Botin officially bought the painting in 1977 at a British auction, only for it to be banned from Spanish export. Which really does raise many questions about who holds possession of paintings in Spain, once you have officially purchased them overseas. What else can Spanish authorities ban you from exporting, we’re wondering?

Arrested and charged for smuggling
Source: Unsplash

The Picasso Smuggling Drama

Digging a little deeper, the story seems to go as follows. Botin took the painting to the port of Valencia, located in Spain. There, he handed the painting to the yacht captain and ordered him to hide it from authorities. The yacht then sailed to Corsica, where the painting was subsequently found, and confiscated.

But here is the question you’re probably still asking; where was he taking it?

To London, apparently, to sell it at the British auction house Christie’s. How would it have been sold in an auction, with an export ban put on it, according to Spanish authorities? Your guess is as good as ours. Apparently, the auction house, or the new owners, wouldn’t have checked if it was all legal? Despite tens of millions swopping hands?

It’s all very confusing.

Billionaire Chump Change

According to Botin, he was taking the painting to Switzerland, where it was going to be stashed for safe keeping. Additionally, the billionaire’s lawyers claimed that the painting should not have been subject to an export ban, given that it had not only been purchased abroad. They also said it should not have been confiscated, since it was on a yacht that flew a British flag. The courts did not agree.

But in conclusion, the billionaire was fined €52 million. We’re sure he’s very upset about it. “His” painting is currently on display in a museum in Madrid, called the Reina Sofia so those of us with less padded bank accounts get to enjoy seeing it too. Thus ends the story of the Spanish billionaire and his painting. For now, anyway!