U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Victims Unit (ICE SVU) continues to branch out. It continues to be an ersatz art-theft cum historical documents squad, or in this case, the not quite art theft squad, similar to it foray into bunko work.
WaPo June 24, 2013 by AP
NEW YORK — A 1909 Pablo Picasso painting titled “Compotier et tasse,” or “Fruit bowl and cup,” with an estimated worth of $11.5 million will be held by U.S. authorities for the Italian government pending the outcome of criminal proceedings against its owner in Italy, according to the terms of a judge’s order signed Monday.
Justice Department authorities assumed control of the painting after U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero signed the order following a formal request by the government of Italy.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington said in a news release that Italian authorities requested the seizure after the painting’s owner was charged with embezzlement and fraudulent bankruptcy offenses in Italy. The charges allege that the painting’s owner caused the city of Naples to lose $44 million through a variety of schemes that avoided taxes, including fraudulent service contracts, forged accounting records and inflated operational expenses.
Homeland Security agents seized the painting May 21, when it was being offered for private sale for $11.5 million.
And apparently the outgoing and unlamented John Morton, well know enemy of the Constitution, approves this quite unusual seizure for ICE SVU, as it is unrelated to the customs or immigration function of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We are very pleased that our investigation has led to the recovery of this painting that is so significant to the Italian people,” ICE Director John Morton said.
Also problematic is that there is no evidence that the art work is of any legal interest to the United States or our laws. The piece was purchased legally. In the United States, the statuary authority for asset forfeiture, that is restricted to those assets seized after an indictment or information has been filed in U.S. District Court in certain felony cases. There is also an administrative asset seizure authority for smuggling aliens and other illegal goods, like drugs and counterfeit products. However, in this case there is no criminal case, just an allegation from a foreign government. It informs one that ICE SVU is so desperate to avoid its real mission of immigration and customs law enforcement that it will venture out into unknown legal territory, territory that should be the jurisdiction of the FBI. Which does inform one that ICE SVU does want to surplant the FBI, something this blog has been observing for sometime.