Bad Banker’s $8 Million Basquiat Smuggled With Shipping Invoice for $100 Returns Home
An $8 million Basquiat was shipped with a $100 value.
After years of forfeiture litigation, US officials held a repatriation ceremony yesterday to announce the return of two major works to Brazil—Jean Michel Basquiat’s Hannibal (1981) painting, and a Roman togatus statue.
The two works were once owned by Brazilian financier Edemar Cid Ferreira, founder and former president of Banco Santos, who was convicted in 2006 of crimes against the national financial system as well as money laundering. He is currently serving a 21-year prison sentence.
“The painting and the statue were smuggled into the United States in violation of customs law and were forfeited to the government as a result of civil forfeiture action brought by the United States,” according to a release from Preet Bharara of the US District Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York.
As part of the case a Sao Paulo judge had ordered the search, seizure and confiscation of assets from Ferreira, his associates, and other family members that were acquired with illegally obtained funds from Banco Santos. Along with the Basquiat and togatus statue—the latter being a statue of a masculine toga-clad figure—the US earlier returned work including a Roy Lichtenstein, a painting by Joaquin Torres Garcia, a Serge Poliakoff and other works with an estimated value of $20 million to $30 million.
At the time they were ordered seized, the works were believed to have been kept in several locations, including Ferreira’s home in Sao Paulo, the main offices of Bancos Santos, and at a holding facility. But when Brazilian authorities searched these locations, they found that the works, including the Basquiat and statue, were missing.
Having cooperated with Interpol, US authorities discovered that the Basquiat and the togatus statue were shipped from the Netherlands to a secure storage facility in New York in August and September 2007, respectively. Invoices failed to comply with US customs laws in several respects—the most glaring of which was that the pieces were not identified, and that each was labeled to be worth $100. In fact, the statue alone has an appraised value of $100,000, and the Basquiat painting is currently estimated at $8 million.
According to the artnet Price Database, the work was sold once at auction—at Christie’s New York in May 1993, where it sold for $79,500, on an estimate of $75,000–$95,000, and a fraction of its current worth. Prices for Basquiat have soared in tandem with the broader contemporary art boom in the last decade or so. The current record of $48.8 million for Dustheads (1982) was set at Christie’s New York in May 2013 (estimate: $25–35 million).
Bharara stated at yesterday’s ceremony: “Art and antiquities have special value and meaning that cannot readily be quantified. As a result they have long been the subject of theft and deception, as well as a means to launder illicit proceeds. Art…should not be allowed to become a conduit for crime.”
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