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  • Amadeo Modigliani's 1918 canvass

    Amadeo Modigliani's 1918 canvass "Seated Man with a Cane" | Photo: Reuters

Published 10 April 2016

The Panama Papers law firm helped hide a Modigliani painting worth US$25 million that was stolen by the Nazis.

Leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, whose main founder has been linked to Nazis, reveal the firm’s own involvement in a legal battle between a prominent family of art collectors, who claim a Modigliani painting was stolen from them by Nazis,and the New York-based Nahmad Art Gallery.

Jurgen Mossack, one of the founders of the law firm, is a German immigrant whose father sought a new life in Panama after serving in for Hitler’s SS during World War II.

Jurgen’s older brother offered to spy for the U.S. government on “former Nazis turned communist or unconverted Nazis cloaking themselves as communists,” after the war, according to the Panama Papers leak.

The descendants of Oscar Stettiner, a Jewish art dealer, claim that a 1918 canvas by Italian master Amadeo Modigliani, was ransacked from his grandfather’s collection by the Nazis during the Second World War after Stettiner fled Paris in 1939.

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The Nahmad Gallery has contested the claim, arguing that it had never owned the artwork in the first place and that the painting belonged to a Panama-based company, the International Art Centre.

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However, the documents released in the Panama Papers showed that Ezra Nahmad of the New York-based art gallery created the IAC as a shell company to potentially conceal Amadeo Modigliani's stolen 1918 painting "Seated Man With A Cane."

The files also revealed that half of the IAC shares were passed to his brother David in 2008, with the other half following in 2014.

The leaked documents may have implications on a legal challenge to reclaim the painting by Stettiner's grandson, Philippe Maestracci, whose legal case was dismissed by a New York judge last November. 

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The lawsuit has now been refiled in New York's Supreme Court with the legal claim that IAC was a front for the Nahmad family "in a manner so as to confuse and conceal their identities, and hide revenues generated."

In what is being described as the largest leak in the history of data journalism, the Panama Papers are a set of over 11.5 million documents dated back to the late 1970s that reveal how the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca helped world leaders, wealthy elites, and celebrities hide assets in shell companies and offshore tax havens.

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