The return to Spain of the valuable works of art that the businessman David Marjaliza, confessed leader of the Punic plot, hid in a warehouse in Geneva (Switzerland) will cost 248,566 Swiss francs (238,200 euros), according to the documentation of the Swiss authorities to the that EL PAÍS has had access. The Swiss justice has sent to the National Court a letter to finalize the delivery of 39 paintings and photographs and 184 collector’s fountain pens that the builder treasured in the Swiss country with the warning that, before it becomes effective, it will discount that amount , destined to cover the storage costs of the last six years and part of the cost of the transfer of the goods to Madrid, of the balance of a bank account also seized at Marjaliza in Switzerland, as detailed in a resolution of Judge Joaquín Elías Gadea incorporated into the summary of Punic case.
The works that are about to return are valued at 15.6 million euros and include creations by Eduardo Chillida, Miquel Barceló, Antoni Tàpies, Manolo Valdés, Equipo Crónica, Juan Uslé and Torres García, among others. The initially planned destination for them is the Reina Sofía National Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid.
The resolution of Judge Gadea, who performs functions of reinforcement to the investigator of the case, Judge Manuel García-Castellón, comes after last November 4, a letter from the Swiss Prosecutor’s Office was received at the National Court to “specify the restitution of the seized assets ”to the corruption network. In this communication, the prosecutor Sophie Chofflon detailed that most of the amount that will be withdrawn from the money that Marjaliza hid in an account in Switzerland in the name of a company screen will be used to pay the company Natural Le Coultre SA, owner of the warehouse where the works have been deposited since 2013. The facilities of this company in Geneva are the refuge of hundreds of thousands of artistic goods from private investors, so they are considered in the art world as a hidden museum. Specifically, Natural Le Coultre claims 213,646 Swiss francs (204,747 euros), corresponding to just over five years of storage in a warehouse of 18 square meters, according to the invoice issued by this company and now incorporating the summary of the Punic case.
To this figure, the Swiss authorities add another 34,920 Swiss francs (33,453 euros) to pay for the transfer of the works from Geneva to Madrid by a specialized company. The Swiss authorities clarify that this amount does not include VAT or some necessary services, such as insurance, import taxes in Spain or unloading, unpacking and storage in Madrid. To carry out the transfer, the prosecutor Chofflon proposes, at the request of Natural Le Coultre, the hiring of the Spanish company SIT, specialized in the removal of cultural property and which was the same company that Marjaliza hired in its day to take the paintings from Spain to Switzerland, as the document recalls.
Finally, the Swiss Prosecutor’s Office asks the Spanish justice to provide “as soon as possible” the identity of the person from the Office for Asset Recovery and Management (ORGA) of the Ministry of Justice who will be in charge of receiving the works in Spain. The ORGA, whose mission is to administer the property seized from convicted persons, has signed an agreement since 2016 with the Reina Sofía Museum to authenticate the artistic objects intervened by the constructor of the Punic plot and that it is subsequently exhibited in its rooms. Sources of the cultural institution have indicated this Monday that they have not yet received any official notification about an upcoming transfer of the goods. In August they already indicated to this newspaper that the museum maintained its interest in incorporating part of the works, if not all, into its collections, although they admitted that they had problems with space to keep them while the conservation works are being carried out.
Long and complex process
The letter of the Swiss authorities brings to an end a long and complex process that began more than six years ago, in March 2015, when the judge of the National Court Eloy Velasco, the first investigator of this corruption investigation, asked Switzerland to seize the works of art that Marjaliza had acquired to launder part of her illicit earnings and that she had hidden in the warehouses of Natural Le Coultre SA. In February of the following year, Judge Velasco began the procedures for them to return to Spain. The magistrate already had the consent of Marjaliza himself, who had begun to collaborate with justice and expressly authorized the transfer of assets without having to wait for a final conviction.
However, the Swiss justice initially refused to do so. It claimed that the art objects were not listed as the property of the builder, but of a Singapore company, Millenia Trading Pte Ltd, which was run by two Asian nationals. For the Swiss authorities, this company was the formal owner of the goods and, therefore, its administrators were the only ones who could authorize the shipment. In reality, Millenia Trading is owned by Marjaliza himself, who created it to carry out, precisely, a false operation of sale of art with these goods to launder 4.2 million euros that he had hidden in Switzerland and, thus, be able to repatriate them to Spain .
It was useless for the builder to show his willingness to return to the works. Marjaliza – which has already authorized in recent years the auction of other valuables such as luxury watches, jewelry and vehicles that were intervened after his arrest in October 2014 – aspires that the value of all this serves to cover part of the millionaire amount that will foreseeably be imposed as liability if he is convicted by the Punic case.
The situation remained blocked until last April 26. That day, the representatives of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office in the case held a telematic meeting with their Swiss colleague Chofflon and with representatives of the Swiss Federal Office and the Swiss embassy in Spain in which they promised to “report favorably” to the justice of his country to give the green light to repatriate artistic goods. Weeks later, on June 7, Marjaliza appeared at the National High Court to agree to the repatriation and to “expressly” authorize that upon arrival all the artistic objects remain in the custody of the ORGA.
Days later, on June 29, a new judicial appearance of the builder was held, in this case by videoconference with the Swiss prosecutor, in which he reiterated his authorization to return the works and gave his consent for it to be charged at the bank accounts that had been intervened in Switzerland for both the cost of renting the warehouse in which they are stored and that of their transport to Spain. Now, five months later, the Swiss authorities are finally going to do it and, with this, the return of the works to Spain seems imminent.