The US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York returned two seized paintings to Brazil on Tuesday. Part of a large collection smuggled into the U.S. in 2006, Roy Lichtenstein's "Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave" and "Figures dans une structure" by Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres García were among the assets of fraudulent Brazilian banker Edemar Cid Ferreira.
After Ferreira's Banco Santos collapsed under $1 billion debt, he was sentenced to 21 years in prison. Brazilian authorities went to claim his assets only to find out his art collection included works missing from museums and that about $30 million worth of art had disappeared.
Some of Ferreira's artwork was eventually smuggled into the U.S. under false artist's names and with understated values on invoices. A Basquait titled "Hannibal," for example, estimated to be worth upwards of $4 million, entered U.S. customs with a value of $100.
An art dealer in Connecticut tipped Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when the artwork came to be shopped around the East Coast, according to NBCNewYork.
Collectors and dealers unwittingly purchased Ferreira-owned paintings, including the Lichtenstein which Los Angeles-based Ace Gallery sold to the collector Seth Landsberg. U.S. authorities seized the work in 2008 when it turned up at Sotheby's, according to WNYC.
Landsberg then lost his claim to the artwork when the U.S. government took ownership of the painting, returning it to Brazil on Sept. 21.