US has stopped a 1909 Pablo Picasso painting titled "Compotier et tasse," or "Fruit bowl and cup," with an estimated worth of $11.5 million from leaving the country, after a request by the Italian government.
The restraining order was obtained yesterday in response to an official request by the government of Italy, in connection with its ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution of Gabriella Amati.
Amati and her late husband, Angelo Maj, were charged by the Italian Public Prosecutors' Office in Milan with embezzlement and fraudulent bankruptcy offences under Italian law, and Italian prosecutors have obtained a restraining order for the Picasso painting in connection with the criminal proceeding.
"Restraining this Picasso painting is yet another example of the Justice Department's close partnership with law enforcement around the world," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Maithili Raman.
"Our asset forfeiture section is committed to finding and securing every last penny of criminal proceeds and putting those ill-gotten proceeds back in the hands of victims, regardless of where they reside," she said.
"Restraining this valuable artwork is an effort to help recover some of the estimated $44 million that this couple stole from the tax-paying citizens of Naples," said the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.
According to documents filed in the Italian criminal proceeding, Amati and Maj, in collaboration with a public official of the city of Naples, Italy, employed various schemes to misappropriate tax receipts collected for Naples by companies the couple controlled.
In addition, the Italian prosecutors alleged that Amati and Maj orchestrated a number of schemes to embezzle Naples? tax revenue, including the use of fraudulent service contracts, forged accounting records, inflated operational expenses and fraudulently claimed refunds to Naples taxpayers, all to justify transfers to the couple's own bank accounts of the taxes that were collected for the city, resulting in a loss of approximately 33 million Euros ($44 million) to Naples.
On May 21, 2013, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents in New York located and recovered the painting, which was being offered for private sale in the amount of USD11.5 million.
"We are very pleased that our investigation has led to the recovery of this painting that is so significant to the Italian people. This is an example of the fine work of our HSI cultural repatriation special agents. We will continue our efforts to return stolen antiquities to their rightful owners," Morton said.