French Authorities Seize Russian Avant-Garde Paintings Suspected Stolen from Collector

French court bailiffs seized more than 100 avant-garde works from an art laboratory in Paris in February, following suspicion that they had been stolen from a private collector.

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

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

Khatib’s son, Castro Ben Leon Lawrence Jayyusi, heads the campaign to regain roughly 900 total works of art lost worldwide. 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 Capital.

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

Though Zarug was in prison on 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 work to diligently check its provenance and make sure it is not a stolen piece belonging to our family.”




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