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Picasso seized as part of Italian tax fraud case

June 25, 2013 at 3:12 PM

NEW YORK, June 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice has seized a Picasso painting owned by an Italian couple accused of stealing millions in taxes they were supposed to collect.

Pablo Picasso painted "Compotier et tasse" in 1909. It is worth an estimated $11.5 million and is owned by Angelo Maj and his wife Gabriella Amati. The couple is accused of fraudulently filing tax receipts collected by companies they owned on behalf of the city of Naples.

Italian prosecutors alleged Amati and Maj orchestrated a number of schemes to embezzle Naples' tax revenue, including the use of fraudulent service contracts, forged accounting records, inflated operational expenses and fraudulently claimed refunds to Naples taxpayers. The end result is 33 million euros ($44 million) was taken from city coffers, prosecutors said.

The Italian government obtained a restraining order for the Picasso painting after arresting Maj and Amati.

Maj has since died.

The U.S. Justice Department won the restraining order preventing the painting's sale or removal in federal court for the Southern District of New York. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers located and seized the painting, which will be transferred to the Italian government as part of the restitution process for the couple's embezzlement.

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