The Panama Papers are just the gift that keeps on giving!
This week, Swiss officials raided a storage facility in Geneva where the Modigliani painting “Seated Man with a Cane” was being secretly stored. The Panama Papers leak revealed the location (and the owner) of the painting, which Nazis had stolen from the Jewish art dealer Oscar Stettiner during the occupation of Paris, according to Stettiner’s decedents.
Though it was hidden for many years, the painting popped up at a Sotheby’s auction in 2008 under the mysterious owner, International Art Center. The painting did not sell due to questions about its authenticity, and it disappeared again. But that’s not to say no one noticed it: Stettiner’s grandson, Philippe Maestracci, has been trying to get the painting back since 2011 in US courts, alleging that billionaire art collector David Nahmad was the owner.
Now the Panama Papers show that Nahmad is indeed the owner of the International Art Center (and by extension the painting — as well as billions of dollars worth of other artwork).
“A criminal procedure has been opened as a result of revelations tied to the Panama Papers with the goal of verifying the presence of a Modigliani in Geneva,” a spokesperson from the Swiss prosecutors office said on Monday.
To put into perspective why Maestracci wants this painting back so badly, just consider this: in November, the artist’s work “Nu Couché” sold for $170.4 million, making it the second most expensive painting ever sold at auction.