The more of the Botin Picasso story that emerges, the more it would seem that any fears Botin was trying to smuggle the work to Switzerland were an entirely made up pretext to justify the raid. Remember that the ship’s captain had the court judgment with the work of art. And Botin’s entire case rests on it never having entered Spain. The New York Times adds details that suggest the Spanish government seized a painting it wants:
But on Friday, after an apparent tip from the Spanish authorities, it was seized by French customs officials from the yacht, which had docked in Corsica. […] the seizure of the Picasso is being closely watched as an illustration of how an attempt to protect state interests can clash with private ownership rights.
Rafael Mateu de Ros, Mr. Botín’s lawyer in Madrid, said in a statement that his client would file an appeal to Spain’s Supreme Court, arguing that the painting could not have been exported unlawfully because it was purchased abroad, and its permanent address was aboard the yacht, the Adix, which is registered in Britain.
“For years now, the picture has been inside a British vessel, which is foreign territory for all who that may concern, even when it is moored in Spanish ports,” he added.
Spain could ultimately take ownership of the painting if it finds that Mr. Botín, 79, violated its cultural protection laws against illicit trafficking. Or it could simply fine Mr. Botín and bar him from moving it out of the country again. Infractions carry administrative penalties of up to 600,000 euros.
Mr. Botín, a member of the family that controls Banco Santander, bought the Picasso painting of a longhaired woman in 1977, at the Marlborough Fine Art Fair in London, for his personal collection.
Spain Says Banker’s Seized Picasso Will Head Back Home (The New York Times)