ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Police from Spain flew to France today to retrieve a Picasso painting being held there. French customs agents had seized the painting from the owner. He is a Spanish billionaire who evidently wants to sell it outside the country. But the Spanish government says the Picasso belongs in Spain. Here's Lauren Frayer from Madrid.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It's all over Spanish TV, but it's the first glimpse most Spaniards have had of Picasso's "Head Of A Young Woman." The 1906 painting is not one of the Spanish master's most famous works, but it is from a pivotal year in Pablo Picasso's life. And it's been valued at up to $28 million. For nearly 40 years, the painting has belonged to Jaime Botin, a member of the wealthy family that runs Santander Bank. He kept the prized Picasso on his private yacht docked on Spain's Mediterranean coast. But then his son took the boat for a sail last month to the French island of Corsica, where he ran into trouble. French customs officials boarded the yacht and seized the painting.
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VINCENT GUIVARCH: (Speaking French).
FRAYER: "We found the artwork on the boat already packaged up," French customs official Vincent Guivarch told reporters. "It appeared ready to be shipped," he said. Authorities believe Botin was getting ready to ship the painting to Switzerland to sell it there. But Spain considers the Picasso painting a national treasure, a cultural asset that can't be taken out of the country. Jose Castillo is a national heritage expert at Spain's University of Granada.
JOSE CASTILLO: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "The law says that if the artwork is more than 100 years old and has national cultural significance, the owner needs to apply for permission to take it abroad or sell it," he said. Botin has been denied such permission for years. Spanish officials say he finally gave up and was trying to smuggle the painting through Corsica. Botin's lawyer says Spanish law shouldn't even apply here because the yacht where the painting has been kept sails under a British flag, no matter where it's docked. Picasso's "Head Of A Young Woman" arrived home in Madrid this evening where it will be kept in a museum until its legal status is sorted out. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.