Banker jailed and fined $58 million for smuggling Picasso painting from Spain

Ownership of “Head of Young Woman” — which is valued at $26 million — was also transferred from Jaime Botin to the Spanish state.
Image: The seized painting, Head of a Young Woman, by Pablo Picasso.
Ownership of Pablo Picasso's "Head of a Young Woman" was transferred to the Spanish state. French Customs Office

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By Henry Austin

A former bank president who smuggled a Pablo Picasso painting out of Spain after it was deemed a national artistic treasure has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Jaime Botin, 83, was also fined $58 million and ownership of “Head of Young Woman” — which is valued at $26 million — was also transferred from him to the Spanish state in the ruling by judges at Madrid’s High Court released on Thursday.

Botin, the former chairman of Bankinter and uncle to Ana Botin, who serves as chairman of the powerful Santander banking group, had denied the charges and the verdict can be appealed. Due to his advanced age and his status as a first-time offender, he is unlikely to serve any time behind bars.

The case stemmed from the seizure of the 1906 oil painting from Botin’s yacht by customs officials on the French island of Corsica in 2015. They were working in conjunction with Spanish authorities.

On board, they found a document confirming that the work was of "cultural interest" and banned from leaving Spain, Picasso's homeland, without permission.

The painting, which comes from the Cubist master's "pink period" and features a woman with long black hair, was seized when the boat's captain was unable to produce a certificate.

Botin had been informed in 2012 by auctioneer Christie's that he would need official permission to sell the century-old painting in a London auction, the court ruling stated.

Despite this, he took the painting to the Spanish port city of Valencia and ordered his yacht's captain to "hide it from authorities,” it added.

While acknowledging that the painting had left Spanish territory, Botin said he had been taking it to Switzerland for safekeeping. His lawyer was not available for comment after the case, according to the Reuters press agency.

Botin was chairman of Bankinter from 1986 to 2002. He maintains a significant interest in the bank through Cartival, an investment vehicle shared between him and his sons. Cartival is the largest shareholder in Spain's fifth-largest bank by market value with a stake of 23 percent.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed.