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This extensive portolan chart of Europe, western Asia and north Africa, ink, watercolour and gouache, heightened in gold, on vellum, c.1640, by Oliva (Placido e Caloiro) sold at £75,000 at Chiswick Auctions on March 28 – a house record for books and maps.

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Bidders were concerned they might not have proper title to the works – the source of which was not mentioned in the catalogue.

The maps offered by Chiswick were believed to have been consigned by an art storage firm that took possession of them in lieu of debts owed following the conviction of Edemar Cid Ferreira. The founder and former president of Banco Santos had illegally used the bank’s money to acquire his collection.

More than 70 lots in the March 28 sale were thought to be from this unnamed vendor. They included a vellum portolan chart c.1640, hammered down at a house record £75,000 to dealer Daniel Crouch.

Crouch was one of several map dealers who had identified the source of the collection – matching some of the flagship items to the Banco Santos 2002 exhibition and publication O tesouro dos mapas: A cartografia na formação do Brasil.

Title concern

Crouch said Chiswick had changed the information about who had consigned the maps during conversations before the sale. He has bought the map on the condition it has a valid export licence.

He said: “I am concerned on the grounds that there was not sufficient documentation to give any potential buyer clear title. I think this is unhelpful against the background of proposed EU legislation imposing draconian regulation on our trade to reduce money laundering.”

However, Nigel Shorthouse, business development director at Chiswick, said: “Chiswick Auctions is confident with the due diligence carried out on all lots offered in this sale. We contacted all interested parties pre-sale and were satisfied with their response and therefore proceeded with the sale.”

Art Loss Register was notified of the sale of the maps and alerted the police. ALR director James Ratcliffe told ATG that Chiswick Auctions does not subscribe to its searching service for book and map sales.

“As a result, although the items from the Banco Santos claim are registered on our database and some [did] appear in their sale, we had not reviewed it,” said Ratcliffe.

The maps were investigated by the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit amid fears there could be a legal claim over them by the lawyers acting for the creditors of Banco Santos. It told ATG the unit “was aware of the sale at Chiswick Auctions and the issues surrounding some of the lots” but concluded “there was no legal basis for the police to intervene in the auction”.

Christopher Marinello, chief executive of Art Recovery International, who has previously been involved with a Banco Santos recovery, said: “Any auction house offering works has an obligation to sell with clear title. In a case like this I would like to see a detailed page about the due diligence completed in the catalogue description ahead of the sale.”

ATG contacted Arnoldo Lacayo, at Miami’s Sequor Law, the lawyer advising the bank’s estate, but he did not respond to questions.

Edemar Cid Ferreira was convicted of financial crimes in 2006 after he bought artworks with illegally obtained funds from Banco Santos. He is appealing his 21-year prison sentence while the bank’s estate seeks to compensate creditors.

Last year US authorities reclaimed 95 works valued at over $10m, including a Henry Moore bronze, which they claimed had been illegally exported.