Spanish authorities seize a ‘contraband’ Picasso at Ibiza airport

Officials in Spain have seized a drawing believed to be of Pablo Picasso worth more than $460,000 from a passenger who failed to declare it to customs at the airport, Spain’s tax authorities and civil service said. in a statement on Monday.

The traveler, whose name has not been released, arrived in Ibiza, Spain, from Switzerland on July 5 and, according to Spanish officials, tried to smuggle the 1966 drawing called “Trois Personnages” into his luggage.

Spanish authorities said customs officials in Switzerland tipped them off about a passenger carrying “a work of art in circumstances” that Swiss officials deemed “suspicious”. The man told authorities he had nothing to report when he was questioned after landing at Ibiza airport.

When he tried to move through a green lane at the airport, customs officers searched his luggage and found the sketch signed by Picasso, authorities said.

The traveler then claimed the work was a copy and presented a handwritten invoice for 1,500 Swiss francs, or about $1,550.

But during a search of the luggage, investigators found a second bill from an art gallery in Zurich worth 450,000 Swiss francs, or about $464,000, for the sale of “Trois Personnages” (three figures), authorities said.

Born in Málaga, Spain, Picasso became one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and his works fetch significant sums. In May, Picasso’s “Femme Nue Couchée,” valued at over $60 million, sold for $67.5 million with fees at Sotheby’s.

Imports such as the artwork brought to Spain from outside the European Union are subject to customs duties.

The Spanish authorities said in a statement: “As this is a property exceeding 150,000 euros and which was imported without a customs declaration, despite the specific inquiries from the authorities as to whether the passenger had anything to declare, a suspected crime of contraband.”

After the incident, the sketch was presented for inspection to the director of the Ibiza Museum of Contemporary Art, who reported that the artwork was an original Picasso and that the market value matched the price of the Swiss gallery invoice.

Spanish authorities said experts would conduct a more exhaustive analysis of the artwork to determine its source, and it would remain under a court’s supervision until the investigation is completed.