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Billionaire Spanish banker fined €52m for Picasso smuggling plot

Tom McArthur
Page editor
The seized painting 'Head of a young woman' by famous Spanish painter Picasso. Photo: Getty Images/Garda Civil

A Spanish billionaire banker, who is also an art collector, has been jailed for 18 months and fined €52.4m (£44.6m, $58.4m) for trying to smuggle a national treasure Picasso painting out of the country to sell at an auction.

The artwork, Head of a Young Woman, is valued at €26m and is regarded as an artistic treasure by the Spanish government, meaning it can’t be taken out of the country or sold without special permission.

In 2015, it was discovered by customs officials and police in the French island of Corsica on board the yacht of owner Jamie Botin, who was the-then head of the Madrid-based bank Bankinter (BAKA.SG).

Spanish prosecutors say that Botin, 83, was told by auctioneers Christies in 2012 that he’d need a special permit to sell the valuable painting — that he bought in 1977 — but had been denied one.

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The court heard that Botin then sent the painting to his yacht in Valencia and ordered it to be stashed away.

When it was discovered in French territory three years later, Botin argued he was taking it to Switzerland for safe-keeping.

Spanish Civil Guards move the box containing Picasso's painting 'Head of a Young Woman' into the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Photo: Getty Images

However, the Madrid High Court found Botin guilty on Thursday of attempting to remove “cultural goods” from Spain without a permit.

He has also been ordered to give up the painting, which is now at the Reina Sofia art gallery in Madrid, according to a BBC report.

Botin, who Forbes say has a net worth of $1.7bn, may appeal against his sentence and it’s unlikely he’ll be sent to jail because of his age and the non-violent nature of the crime.

Botin’s father and brother were both chairmen of Spain’s Santander (SAN) bank and he was a vice-chairman before resigning in 2004. 

Picasso’s Head of a Young Woman (1906) is a rare example of his ‘pink period’ (1904-1906), a precursor to the Cubism he is more well known for.

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