Swiss Authorities Seize Artworks From Billionaire Urs Schwarzenbach

Customs officials entered the hotel he owns and removed works from the walls.

Urs Schwarzenbach.
Urs Schwarzenbach.

Billionaire hotelier and businessman Urs Schwarzenbach has had artwork seized from his five-star Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich for the second time in six months, in an ongoing dispute with the Swiss authorities over back taxes.

Customs officials reportedly entered the hotel on Tuesday, March 7, and took paintings by the likes of Joan Miró, Jean Dubuffet, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Fernando Botero off the walls of the reception area and restaurant of the hotel.

Swiss customs would not confirm the number of works or their combined value but the Swiss paper Tages-Anzeiger reported that around 30 paintings were taken at a value of around CHF50 million ($49.4 million) for VAT evasion. Some 150 works from Schwarzenbach’s collection hang on the walls of the Dolder Grand.

According to NZZ, customs inspectors also searched the premises of the Villa Falkenstein at the same time, where Schwarzenbach runs his family office. Swiss media reports that inspectors were looking for 13 paintings that were under a general prohibition of transfer due to the taxes owed, but that are now missing.

This incident follows an investigation by Swiss authorities into Schwarzenbach’s taxes, which started in 2012, culminating in a hefty $4 million fine in October 2016. The investigation concluded that he had falsely declared the value of over 200 paintings when taking them through Swiss customs, evading CHF10 million in VAT.

One such example was the work Paysage Alpin by Gottardo Segantini, for which Schwarzenbach provided receipts for the sum of 10,000 Francs ($10,059.) It later emerged that he had in fact paid 105,000 Francs ($105,621) for the painting.

Schwarzenbach appealed the claimed tax arrears but his appeal was rejected by the Swiss Federal Court this past December.

In a bizarre interview published on March 1, a week ahead of the raid, on the website finews.com, and conducted by his lawyer, Schwarzenbach discussed his collection and in the course of the article declared the fine “absurd.”

“Until now, Switzerland has been an art center for the world,” the billionaire collector says in the interview. “It will lose that reputation if customs and tax authorities keep treating people like they did me. Competitors in Luxembourg and London would be only too happy for that to happen.”

According to Swissinfo.com, Schwarzenbach’s lawyer said that the authorities’ entering the hotel in such a way for a VAT bill of only CHF12 million ($11,848,000) was an “exaggerated” reaction.


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