Town & Country adds a useful bit of background the reporting on Jaime Botin’s recently seized Picasso. Much of the newspaper coverage implies that Botin was trying to smuggle the work to Switzerland, presumably through France because Switzerland is, you know, landlocked.
Instead of looking at this as Botin being caught in the act, it appears the French basically acted as repo agents for the Spanish government. Botin had been claiming he no longer had control of the work of art.
The key may lie in the fact that the judgment was with the work of art which would not be the smartest move for a smuggler. (Also worth asking: where did the $29.5m valuation come from?):
The painting was the subject of a recent court battle that Botín lost. The Spanish banker contended that the actual owner of the art work was the Euroshipping Charter Company, a Jersey based entity run by the head of Santander Asset Management. He also claimed that he couldn’t get it back anyway from the ship Adix, (pictured above in full sail, near the port in Corsica where it was apprehended), and that as a Jersey company, the ship was subject to British law, a contention that would allow it to be sold for, as the French say, beaucoup dollars at Christie’s in an upcoming sale.
But no such luck. The French authorities boarded the Adix and demanded papers from the ship’s captain (Botín himself was not part of this particular boating expedition). Among the papers that the captain produced was a copy of the judgment of the Spanish court that held that the painting was a national treasure, and as such could not be exported. The French, who have a very possessive interpretation of national treasure laws themselves, decided to aid their neighbors to the west and seized the painting.