THE FBI have arrested a retired lawyer who became involved in a £20m stolen art saga. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in jail.
Robert Mardirosian, 72, was charged on February 13 in a US District Court with possessing, concealing, storing and attempting to sell stolen goods over the last 30 years.
The seven paintings in question were stolen in 1978 from the Massachusetts home of collector Michael Bakwin. They included Paul Cézanne’s Fruit and Jug, two Chaim Soutine portraits, two works by Jean Jansen and works by Maurice de Vlaminck and Maurice Utrillo.
The US authorities allege that Mardirosian took the paintings on an international tour from his Massachusetts law office to Swiss banks and London auction houses under the cover of a company registered in Panama that he created in order to sell the works.
Mardirosian originally became involved in the case when he represented one of the suspected thieves, David Colvin. He told The Boston Globe last year that he represented Colvin in an unrelated case and that Colvin had simply left the paintings at his law office in Watertown. Colvin was never convicted of the theft as there was insufficient evidence. He was then murdered in 1979 over a gambling debt.
There was then no trace of the paintings until 1999 when Lloyd’s of London were asked to insure their movement from Russia to London for valuation and sale. Lloyd’s underwriters contacted the Art Loss Register, and negotiations began for their return.
In cooperation with the FBI, the ALR negotiated the return of the Cézanne, which was sold on behalf of Mr Bakwin for £18m at Sotheby’s in 1999. Negotiations to recover the other six paintings broke off in 2001.
In 2004 four of the stolen pictures were consigned to Sotheby’s by Paul Palanjian acting as agent for Mardirosian. The ALR and Mr Bakwin’s lawyers initiated legal action and the four works should now be returned shortly.
Investigators believe the two remaining paintings, both Jansen works, are being held by a Swiss friend of Mardirosian. The ALR stated they were continuing to pursue their recovery.