The Department of Justice has a press release out today officially closing the case of Robert Mardirosian, a Massachusetts lawyer who was asked in 1978 to hold some stolen paintings by a client who was eventually shot and killed the next year, with the return of the last two works Jean Jansem works held while Mardirosian appealed his conviction.
The value of the original seven stolen artworks, including a Cezanne that sold for nearly $30 million, were too great a temptation for the lawyer who hid the art in Switzerland for a decade hoping to cash in eventually.
The Art Loss Register eventually uncovered the scheme:
Mardirosian maintained possession of the stolen artwork in Massachusetts until 1988, when he moved the paintings out of the United States and eventually to a Swiss bank for safekeeping. Mardirosian sought to profit from the stolen paintings by, among other things, demanding a finder’s fee of $1 million. Mardirosian was able to keep his possession of the paintings secret by working through lawyers and others in London and Switzerland, as well as a Panamanian shell company he created just for the paintings, Erie International Trading Co. (Erie).
ALR alerted the rightful owner that his stolen paintings had surfaced and ultimately, on October 15, 1999, brokered an “agreement” between the owner and Erie – Mardirosian’s Panamanian shell corporation – whereby Erie handed over the most valuable painting, the Cezanne, in exchange for the owner’s relinquishing all claims to the remaining six pieces of artwork. At the time, the remaining six paintings were valued at approximately $1 million. Two months later in December, the owner auctioned the Cezanne through Sotheby’s in London for$29.3 million. Mardirosian later sought to sell the remaining six stolen paintings in 2003. Mardirosian arranged to have the paintings brought to a Swiss bank for valuation and authentication by Sotheby’s. In April 2005, Mardirosian arranged for four of the six paintings to be sent to Sotheby’s for transport from Geneva to Sotheby’s in London – after which the owner filed a lawsuit seeking to void the 1999 “agreement” with Erie.