Suspended sentences for pair with Picasso hoard

Pablo Picasso: Family denied he gifted art to his handyman. Picture: Getty
Pablo Picasso: Family denied he gifted art to his handyman. Picture: Getty
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A FRENCH court has convicted a retired electrician and his wife of concealing 271 stolen artworks by Picasso – estimated to be worth about £50 million – and ordered the couple to give them back to the artist’s family.

The verdict yesterday in the southern city of Grasse wraps up an unusual case centring around works that were unknown to the public for decades.

Pierre Le Guennec and wife Danielle told a trial last month that Picasso or his wife gave them paintings, drawings, lithographs and collages around 1970 when Le Guennec worked for the renowned Spanish artist.

They said that they had stored them in a cardboard box in their garage for four decades before trying to authenticate them in 2010.

The family claimed this was not true.

Picasso family lawyer Jean-Jacques Neuer said the Le Guennecs were each given a two-year suspended sentence and accused shady art dealers of seeking to profit from the long-secret artworks.

He told the earlier trial that Pierre, 75, and Danielle, 72, were a “front” for international art thieves and insisted the notion that the pair had left works worth about £50m in a garage was a “myth”.

In its delayed verdict yesterday the court, in effect, rejected both versions of events. The judges convicted the elderly­ couple of “receiving stolen goods” but gave them only suspended sentences.

The couple immediately ­announced they would appeal to try to recover the Picasso works.

The court ordered that the 271 minor pieces unknown before 2010 should be handed over to the Picasso Administration, which represents all the painter’s descendants. The Picasso family said it was “satisfied” with the verdict.

The state prosecutor, Laurent Robert, told last month’s trial that the couple had been “overwhelmed” by events and had never made any money from the paintings and drawings.

He said the investigator believed the works were stolen but it had been impossible to establish when, where or by whom. He recommended five-year jail sentences against the Le Guennecs.

The panel of three judges decided yesterday that the case against them, though proven, was strong enough only to merit suspended sentences.

The disputed pieces date from the period 1900 to 1932. They include portraits of Picasso’s first wife, Olga, nine Cubist collages, a watercolour from the artist’s “blue period”, gouaches, lithographs and 200 drawings.

Pierre Le Guennec was a visiting handyman at Picasso’s last home, a sprawling estate near Mougins in the Cote d’Azur.