Washington – A painting by Pablo Picasso valued at $11.5 million was seized by the U.S. Department of Justice for the Italian government, which is calling for it to be handed over in a case of fraud, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said.
The 1909 painting "Compotier et Tasse," or "Fruit bowl and cup," has been retained under the terms of an agreement between the United States and Italy in New York, where it was to be put on sale.
Italian authorities are trying to seize the assets of Gabriella Amati and her husband, Angelo Maj, who are accused of embezzlement and fraudulent bankruptcy proceedings in Naples.
The charges allege that the painting's owner caused the city of Naples to lose $44 million through a variety of schemes that avoided taxes, including fraudulent service contracts, forged accounting records and inflated operational expenses.
Homeland Security agents seized the painting May 21, when it was being offered for private sale for $11.5 million.
"Restraining this valuable artwork is an effort to help recover some of the estimated $44 million that this couple stole from the tax-paying citizens of Naples," ICE director John Morton said in a statement.
The painting comes from the first years of the groundbreaking Malaga painter's cubist period.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.