FORMER bank manager and major shareholder Jaime Botín could face prison and a huge fine for allegedly 'smuggling' a €26-million Picasso painting out of Spain on his yacht two years ago.
Botín, 81 – one-time chairman of Bankinter, vice-chair of Banco Santander and uncle of the latter's CEO for the British arm of the company, Ana Patricia Botín, 57 – bought the painting Tête d'une Jeune Femme (1906) around 40 years ago and, in 2012, had his request to transport the iconic piece to London turned down.
He had filed an application via Christie's Ibérica on behalf of his firm, Euroshipping Charter Company Ltd, but the then education and culture minister José Ignacio Wert rejected it, saying the painting should remain in Spain.
But Botín's yacht Adix – owned by Banco Santander and with a British insignia – was impounded off the coast of Pianottoli Caldarello on the French island of Corsica on July 31, 2015 and Tête d'une Jeune Femme (pictured) seized by customs officers from France.
Botín's solicitors allege that neither the Bankinter and Banco Santander billionnaire shareholder, nor his legal advisors, thought there was any problem with transporting the painting in EU waters and did not believe doing so was in breach of an anti-export law, especially given that Botín is the legal owner of the piece and it had never left his custody.
But recently, Spain's State prosecution service has rejected this defence.
The painting is considered national heritage, and legislation covering this holds that 'moveable property' within this category automatically falls within State ownership should any attempt to remove it from Spanish territory without permission be made.
This means not only could Botín end up in jail for up to four years and be forced to pay a fine to the tune of €100m, but he is likely to forfeit ownership of the picture without compensation.
Once the Picasso was found on his yacht, it was immediately taken to Madrid's Reina Sofía Museum, where it remains until the court case against Botín is resolved.
Member of Banco Santander dynasty
Jaime Botín is the brother of late Banco Santander chairman Emilio Botín, who died from a heart attack three years ago less than a month before his 80th birthday and who had inherited the role from his own father and grandfather.
Emilio Botín's daughter Ana Patricia Botín, OBE was given the keys to the family dynasty and runs the British arm of the bank, which entered UK territory after buying out the Abbey National in 2004 and has since become one of the country's largest high-street entities.
Back home in Spain, Banco Santander has recently bought out Banco Popular, and has announced today that it has sold 51% of the latter's property portfolio and bad debts to the fund Blackstone, an operation that will be completed in the first quarter of 2018.
Head of property at Blackstone, John Gray, says the move 'is evidence of strong recovery in Spain's economy'.