GENEVA, Switzerland, April 12 (UPI) -- Swiss investigators launched a probe into the ownership of a $25 million Amedeo Modigliani painting after the release of the Panama Papers revealed the artwork may have been stolen by Nazis.
At issue is the title to Seated Man with a Cane, painted in 1918 by the modern Italian artist. International art Center owns the work and the leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca indicate David Nahmad, a Monaco resident and member of a billionaire art-collecting family, owns the company.
The painting, valued by some appraisers at $25 million, was owned by Jewish art dealer Oscar Stettiner, his family says, and was believed to have been confiscated during World War II by the Nazi government when Stettiner escaped Paris in 1939. He died before he could recover the painting.
Since 2011 the Stettiner family has attempted to recover the painting through U.S. courts.
The painting is in a Geneva Freeports warehouse for artworks and other collectibles. It was sequestered by police last week, meaning it cannot leave its current location.
Henri Della Casa, spokesman for the Geneva prosecutor's office, said a "criminal procedure" was underway, "within the framework of the revelations linked to the Panama Papers."
"This is a major victory for our client in his years-long struggle to recover a valuable work of art he rightfully owns," said James Palmer of Mondex Corp., the Canadian company hired by the Stettiner family to search for the painting, in a statement. "We look forward to working with Swiss authorities to recover Seated Man with Cane and returning it to its owner."
Information about ownership of the painting is part of 11 million internal documents of Mossack Fonseca, which were passed to a German newspaper and then to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. They offer a list of individuals around the world, including politicians and celebrities, with offshore accounts typically used as tax havens.