Ex-banker fined $87m for smuggling Picasso

An elderly former Spanish bank chairman has been fined €52 million ($NZ87 million) after being convicted of smuggling a Pablo Picasso painting abroad after it was designated a national treasure.

Jaime Botin (83), an  ex-chairman of Bankinter, was also given an 18-month prison term but is unlikely to serve it due to his advanced age and status as a first-time offender.

The case stemmed from the seizure of Spanish master Picasso's Head of a Young Woman, a 1906 painting valued at €26 million, from Botin's yacht during a search by customs officials on the French island of Corsica in 2015.

Spanish prosecutors accused Botin of trying to sell the painting, depicting a woman with sharp features and long black hair, in defiance of a ban on exporting an artwork of cultural significance for Spain.

Botin, the uncle of Santander bank chairman Ana Botin, denied the charges. While acknowledging that the painting had left Spanish territory, Botin said he had been taking it to Switzerland for safekeeping.

Thursday's verdict, which can be appealed, also transferred ownership of the painting to the Spanish state.

Botin's lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

Madrid's High Court, in a ruling released on Thursday, said Botin had been informed in 2012 by auctioneer Christie's that he would need official permission to sell the century-old painting in a London auction.

Despite this, the court said, Botin took the painting to the Mediterranean port city of Valencia and ordered the captain of his yacht to "hide it from authorities".

The painting resurfaced in 2015 when French customs officials, working in tandem with Spanish authorities, discovered it in the yacht captain's cabin during a stopover in Corsica, it said.

Botin was chairman of Bankinter from 1986 to 2002. He maintains a significant interest in the bank through Cartival, an investment vehicle shared between him and his sons.

Cartival is the largest shareholder in Spain's fifth-largest bank by market value with a stake of 23%.

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