Swiss authorities say they have seized a Modigliani painting, Seated Man with a Cane (1918), after the Panama Papers revealed the ownership of the canvas last week. Prosecutors raided warehouses at the Geneva freeport on Friday as part of a criminal investigation into the painting, which is worth as much as $25m and was stolen by Nazis during the Second World War.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which has been examining documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, disclosed that the painting is owned by a company controlled by the Nahmad family of art dealers, who have previously denied that the work was in their possession.
The painting was stolen by Nazis from the Paris art dealer Oscar Stettiner and never recovered. Stettiner’s grandson, Philippe Maestracci, eventually tracked down the work and sued the Nahamds in 2011, but the suit was withdrawn after the Nahmads said that the painting was owned by a company called the International Art Center (IAC) and not by them. The administrator of the Stettiner estate sued the Nahmads again in 2014, but they insisted that the family did not possess the Modigliani, according to the ICIJ.
However, the Panama Papers show that the Nahmad family has controlled the IAC for more than 20 years, the ICIJ reports. Mossack Fonseca first set up the Panama-based company for the Nahmads in 1995.
When confronted with the documentation, David Nahmad’s lawyer, Aaron Richard Golub told the ICIJ: “Whoever owns IAC is irrelevant. The main thing is: what are the issues in the [ongoing] case, and can the plaintiff prove them?” According to Bloomberg, Golub says the Modigliani painting is still at the warehouse site in Geneva.