Portuguese Authorities Seize Blue-Chip Artworks From Slippery Mega-Collector José Berardo to Pay Down His $1 Billion in Debt

The billionaire put the valuable trove up as collateral for loans.

Portuguese authorities have announced they are seizing mega-collector José Berardo’s modern and contemporary art collection in a bid to cover the businessman’s immense debts. The 75-year-old, who has been described as the “Portuguese Charles Saatchi,” used his 900-piece collection—which includes works by Picasso, Bacon, and Basquiat, among others—as collateral for bank loans of nearly €1 billion ($1.11 billion), the Guardian reports.

A spokeswoman for Portugal’s culture ministry confirmed that a court ruling had authorized the confiscation of the valuable trove. The ruling came after three Portuguese banks failed to collect on their debts and had been hampered from seizing Berardo’s collateral because much of the artwork was on public display in museums. The majority of the works are on loan to the Berardo Collection Museum in Lisbon, one of the country’s most visited art museums.

The Museu Colecao Berardo in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

The Museu Colecao Berardo in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

The state was forced to intervene after three separate banks—the Caixa Geral de Depósitos, the Banco Comercial Português, and the Novo Banco (formerly Espírito Santo)—failed to access the artworks. The banks filed a joint lawsuit in April to recover their debts after Berardo allegedly defaulted on payments.

While Berardo reportedly took out the loans under three different holding companies, the collector has denied accruing any debt personally. He burst into laughter while being questioned in Portuguese parliament earlier this month after an MP suggested the banks might seize art from his collection, according to the Portugal Resident

It is unclear whether Berardo’s creditors, which include Portugal’s state bank, will be able to claim parts of the collection that have been on loan to the Berardo Collection Museum since 2006 under an agreement with the Portuguese government. Representatives for the museum, as well as Berardo’s lawyer André Gomes, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

The star-studded collection also includes work by Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró, and Gerhard Richter. Berardo’s holdings were last valued by Christie’s in 2006 at €316 million ($352 million), according to reports—but they are likely to be worth much more in 2019 amid skyrocketing prices for modern and contemporary art.

According to media reports, this is not the first time the billionaire’s assets have been seized. His spectacular country house on the island of Madeira has already been taken up by Portuguese authorities.

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