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Russian Avant-Garde Paintings Suspected to be Stolen from Collector Seized by French Authorities


More than 100 avant-garde a workswere seized by French court bailiffs from an art laboratory in Paris in February, following suspicions that they had been stolen from a private collector.




As first reported by the Art Newspaper , the international firm Dentons in Frankfurt claims that the works belong to its client, Uthman Khatib, a businessman and investor of Palestinian origins living in Israel. The collection is reportedly worth more than an estimated €100 million ($1.08 million), and includes paintings attributed to Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Natalia Goncharova. The paintings were stolen from a storage facility rented by Khatib in Wiesbaden, Germany, in December 2019, the collector claims.




Last year, bailiffs also seized a collection of works from a Frankfurt storage facility that Khatib also said were his property. Khatib’s lawyer did not give an exact number to the works recovered, saying in a statement to the AN that they counted in the “several hundred”.




The campaign to regain roughly 900 total works of art lost worldwide is headed by Khatib’s son, Castro Ben Leon Lawrence Jayyusi. Some of the works from the family collection, Jayyusi claims, were sold within the last year at auctions in Israel, France, and Monaco. His efforts are funded by the Prague-based litigation financier, LitFin.




Khatib purchased 871 works of an 1,800 painting collection in 2015 from Itzhak Zarug, Israeli art dealer who operated a gallery in Wiesbaden. Suspected to be forgeries, the works were seized by the Wiesbaden public prosecutor’s office upon their acquisition.




Though Zarug was in prison for suspicion of leading a forgery ring, a Wiesbaden court dropped the forgery and criminal conspiracy charges against him in 2018. Zarug and a colleague, however, were convicted of lesser charges for falsifying provenance and selling a forged work.




In 2019, authorities returned the collection to Zarug, which also included the portion owned by Khatib. The art was subsequently taken from Khatib’s storage facility in Wiesbaden, according to court documents.




Jayyusi claims to know the thief and had attempted to negotiate the collection’s return; his appeals unheeded, he took legal action. By 2022, none of the works had been recovered and they reportedly began circulating at auction.




In 2023, the Frankfurt higher regional court ruled that bailiffs could remove Khatib’s works from a storage facility. The Khatib family’s legal team has already contacted two auction houses in France and Israel, respectively, which are believed to have possessed pieces from the lost collection.




“We will follow the perpetrators around the world,” Jayyusi told the AN . “We will continue to recover our property and encourage anyone who is considering buying Russian avant-garde works to diligently check its provenance and make sure it is not a stolen piece belonging to our family.”

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