A painting believed to be the work of Pablo Picasso and estimated to be worth millions of dollars has been found during a drug raid in Iraq, according to authorities.
The allegedly stolen artwork was found on Saturday, August 13, 2022, in the possession of three people in Iraq's central eastern province of Diyala, the state-run Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported.
Quoted from CNN, Wednesday, August 17, 2022, the suspects were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the trafficking and transport of narcotic drugs, according to the country's Ministry of Home Affairs Ministry's Directorate General for the Eradication of Narcotics and Psychotropics.
"A painting belonging to the international painter Picasso was seized in their possession, estimated to be worth millions of dollars," Colonel Bilal Sobhi, director of the anti-narcotics media office, said in a statement to INA.
He added, "Drug trafficking is linked to many crimes, including murder, theft, kidnapping, rape, gang formation, corruption and family disintegration, all the way to the antiquities trade."
The raid that led to the painting's discovery was part of the ministry's ongoing security operation that began in July 2022. Details about the painting, its ownership history, and how it will be authenticated have not been released.
Pablo Picasso, who died in 1973, collected many works. During his 78-year career, the Spanish artist completed some 13,500 paintings and about 100,000 prints and engravings.
Pablo Picasso also created hundreds of sculptures and ceramics and some 34,000 illustrations. Last year, Picasso's "Head of a Woman" was among three works of art found by Greek police nearly a decade after they were stolen in a daring museum heist.
In 2019, the famous artist's US$28 million "Portrait of Dora Maar" was discovered by a Dutch art detective. This painting was discovered 20 years after it was stolen from a Saudi sheikh's yacht off the southern coast of France. In May 2022, a portrait of Picasso's lover and the mother of one of his children, entitled "Femme nue couchée", sold at auction for $67.5 million.
In July 2022, authorities in Ibiza seized more than $460,000 worth of Picasso's sketches. This came after a traveler failed to report it to airport customs, according to a joint statement released by the Spanish Civil Service and Tax Administration.
The unnamed passenger, who arrived on the Spanish island by flight from Switzerland, initially tried to shrug off the work and called the work only a copy for a small amount of money. But a gallery invoice found in his trunk appears to identify the work as an original.
The alleged smuggling attempt took place in early July, although officials only released details of the incident on Monday, July 18, 2022 after initial analysis showed that the signed sketch was the original Picasso.
Spanish authorities said their Swiss counterparts had informed them of an airline passenger "carrying artwork in (their) circumstances deemed suspicious." When the man attempted to cross the green line at Ibiza Airport, indicating that he had nothing to report on arrival, customs officials searched his luggage and found a sketch of him.
At first, passengers claimed the image was just a copy and resulted in a handwritten receipt for 1,500 Swiss francs.
But during an "in-depth" search officials found a second invoice, issued by the Zurich art gallery, listing the 1966 sale of Picasso's work called "Trois personnages" for 450,000 Swiss francs. An initial inspection by the director of the local museum, the Eivissa Museum of Contemporary Art in Ibiza, found that the artwork was an authentic Picasso with a market value "according to" the amount indicated on the gallery's invoice.
Pablo Picasso was a prolific sketcher, with his drawings often selling at auction for tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2017, his 1940 ink painting "Le Viol" ("The Rape") sold for nearly $8.7 million at Sotheby's in New York.
Art experts are further analyzing the "Trois character" as part of an ongoing investigation. Goods brought into Spain from outside the European Union, including Switzerland, are subject to import duties and VAT. As the value of the sketch is estimated to exceed 150,000 euros, the incident is being treated as a smuggling attempt, the Tax Administration said.