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Panama Papers reveal art dealer family owner of looted Modigliani painting


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Interesting news about some art-centric findings of the Panama Papers: a prominent art dealer family, the Nahmads, is in fact owner of a Modigliani painting looted by the Nazis amid World War II. Cristina Ruiz reports about this finding, as well as other art collector tax-evading hijinks, for the Art Newspaper, in partial below.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has turned its attention to the art world in its ongoing examination of documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm specialising in wealth management.

The ICIJ has revealed that a painting by Modigliani that is being claimed by the grandson of Oscar Stettiner, a Jewish gallery owner whose art was seized by the Nazis, 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 canvas in question, Seated Man with a Cane (1918), was bought by the Nahmads at auction in 1996, reports the ICIJ. They paid just over £2m for the painting at Christie’s London in June of that year. In November 2008, the Nahmads tried to sell the work at Sotheby’s New York with an estimate of $18m to $25m, but there were no bids on the canvas.

In 2011, Philippe Maestracci, Oscar Stettiner’s grandson, sued the Nahmads in US federal court for the return of the Modigliani; the suit was withdrawn after the Nahmads said that the painting was owned by a company called the International Art Center and not by them.

Three years later, in February 2014, the administrator of the Stettiner estate sued the Nahmads again, arguing that the International Art Center is a Panamanian shell company, which is an “alter ego of David Nahmad and other Nahmad family members”, according to the court papers. “The Nahmads have insisted in federal and state court in New York that the family does not possess the Modigliani,” the ICIJ reports.

But the leaked Mossack Fonseca documents show that “the Nahmad family has controlled the Panama-based company International Art Center (IAC) for more than 20 years… David Nahmad, the family leader, has been the company’s sole owner since January 2014”, the ICIJ reports. Mossack Fonseca first set up the IAC for the Nahmads in 1995.

*Image: Modigliani, Seated Man with a Cane (1918)