Picasso Seized by Customs, Forfeiture Pending

U.S. Customs & Border Protection recently encountered and seized a stolen Picasso painting worth millions of dollars at a New Jersey FedEx facility. Customs seized it for the simple reason that the value was only manifested (or declared) as $37. That’s enough to make it subject to seizure and forfeiture.

The Customs officers involved deserve some praise for this seizure; people joke about picking up a Picasso at a garage sale and this case, for Customs, is pretty similar. Apparently, the stolen Picaso was sent from Belgium to the United States in December, 2014, and contained a Merry Christmas message. A small quote from the story (Fox News original here):

A stolen Picasso painting worth millions was nabbed by U.S. customs authorities in Newark, New Jersey who didn’t believe the Fed Ex package was a Christmas gift worth only $37.

[ . . . ] U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta E. Lynch filed a civil complaint to forfeit the Picasso and return it to France on Thursday.

[ . . . ] “The shipper was required to accurately declare the value…which is estimated to be worth millions of dollars. The FedEx airway bill and commercial invoice shipped with the Defendant declared its value as 30 Euros, or approximately $37.00,” court papers state.

[. . . ] U.S. and French authorities have not announced any arrests in the case.

What the story describes is an in rem forfeiture of the Picasso, which is a civil proceeding against the Picasso itself. Essentially, an in rem proceedings means that the Picasso itself is violator because it is here in the country illegally because it’s value was not properly declared (no doubt due to the actions, however innocent, of someone else). Because it is here illegally, that means it can be seized and forfeited to the U.S. Government. Once the forfeiture is complete, the story leads us to believe that the Picasso will be returned to the museum where it wound up missing many years ago.

That no one has yet been arrested could be the people involved were innocent purchasers, or because the French and U.S. governments are doing a deeper probe to judge the criminality of the actions of those involved and the chain of custody since it was originally stolen.

Has Customs seized your Picasso?

If you face penalty liability call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or CONTACT US HERE. We are experienced in defending customs notices of penalties, and preparing detailed and well argued petitions for mitigation of penalties or liquidated damages.