Manhattan US Attorney Returns Paintings Linked to Bank Fraud to Brazilian Government

LawFuel – United States Attorney
Southern District of New York
PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York, and ALONZO R. PEÑA, the Deputy
Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s United States
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), announced today that
two paintings — “Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave” by ROY
LICHTENSTEIN (the “Lichtenstein”) and “Figures dans une
structure” by JOAQUIN TORRES-GARCIA (the “Torres-Garcia”) — were
returned to Brazil at a repatriation ceremony at the United
States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, New York. The paintings
were smuggled into the United States in violation of U.S. customs
law and were forfeited earlier this year as a result of civil
forfeiture action brought by the United States.
The paintings once belonged to Brazilian banker EDEMAR
CID FERREIRA. FERREIRA, the founder and former president of
Banco Santos, S.A. (“Banco Santos”), was convicted in Brazil of
crimes against the national financial system and money
laundering. In December 2006, FERREIRA was sentenced in Brazil
to 21 years in prison.

As part of the case, a Sao Paulo Court Judge also
ordered the search, seizure, and confiscation of assets that
FERREIRA, his associates, and members of his family had acquired
with unlawfully obtained funds from Banco Santos. Those assets
included the Lichtenstein, the Torres-Garcia, and other artwork
valued at $20 million to $30 million. The artwork was kept in
several locations, including FERREIRA’s home in the Morumbi
neighborhood of Sao Paulo, the main offices of Banco Santos, and
at a holding facility. When Brazilian authorities searched these
locations, they found that several of the most valuable works of
art were missing, including the painting known as “Hannibal” by
the artist JEAN MICHEL BASQUIAT, the Lichtenstein, and the

The Sao Paulo Court sought INTERPOL’s assistance after
searching museums and institutions in Brazil for the missing
artwork. In October and November 2007, INTERPOL and the
Government of Brazil sought the assistance of the United States
to locate and seize the missing works on behalf of the Brazilian
government. In response, ICE agents located and seized
“Hannibal” and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern
District of New York filed a civil forfeiture Complaint alleging
that “Hannibal” had been brought into the United States
illegally. Since the filing of the original Complaint in
February 2008, the United States seized additional works of art
and filed two amended Complaints seeking the forfeiture of four
additional artworks listed in the INTERPOL request for
assistance, including the Lichtenstein and the Torres-Garcia.
The Southern District of New York investigation
revealed that the Lichtenstein and the Torres-Garcia were shipped
on December 1, 2006, from the Netherlands to a secure storage
facility in New York. The invoices, however, failed to comply
with U.S. customs laws in a number of respects. For example, the
shipping invoices did not identify the name of the paintings or
their artists. The invoices also falsely claimed that the
combined value of the paintings was $180. In fact, the combined
appraisal value of the Lichtenstein and Torres-Garcia were
recently assessed in excess of $4 million.

After the shipment containing the Lichtenstein and
Torres-Garcia was imported into the United States, both pieces
were subsequently sold, but the purchasers later voluntarily
surrendered the works to ICE. ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office
for the Southern District of New York subsequently formally
seized the pieces.
In December 2009, VANIO CESAR AGUIAR, the Trustee for
the Estate of Banco Santos, agreed that the paintings should be
restored to the Central Authority of Brazil. The Lichtenstein
and Torres-Garcia were forfeited to the United States on August
16, 2010, and July 16, 2010, respectively. “Hannibal,” which was
recently valued to be worth about $8 million, and a sculpture
known as the “Roman Togatus” have also been forfeited to the
United States. An appeal of that decision is pending.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney PREET BHARARA stated: “As
alleged, for years, important contemporary art works by Roy
Lichtenstein and Joaquin Torres-Garcia were held hostage by
Edemar Cid Ferreira’s fraud. Today, we return these valuable
paintings to their rightful place in Brazil. This case
underscores the relevance and importance of customs laws in our
times, sending the clear message that we will pursue individuals
who steal from their country and who try to conceal their crimes
in the stream of American commerce.”

ICE Deputy Director ALONZO R. PEÑA stated: “We are
honored to return these iconic works of art to the people of
Brazil. These are precisely the types of treasures that ICE’s
Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit was established to
identify, investigate, and return to their rightful owners. We
will continue to be vigilant about finding and prosecuting those
who would rob a nation for personal gain.”

Mr. BHARARA praised the investigative work of ICE in
helping to locate and seize the paintings. He was grateful for
the assistance of the Department of Justice’s Office of
International Affairs. Mr. BHARARA thanked Brazilian authorities
for their assistance in the case. He also acknowledged the
assistance of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy
in Brazil for its assistance in the investigation. Mr. BHARARA
added that the investigation is ongoing.
The case is being handled by the Asset Forfeiture Unit
of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney JASON P.
HERNANDEZ is in charge of the litigation.
10-298 ###

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