Fanjul Family Hunts Art Thieves | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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Fanjul Family Hunts Art Thieves

According to the powerful Fanjul family, the State Department has launched an investigation into Bruno Scaioli, an Italian-Argentinian art dealer who is suspected of trafficking artwork the Fanjuls say is rightfully theirs.

Not long after Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959, the wealthy Fanjuls fled to Palm Beach, taking with them only what they could carry. Their land and material possessions -- including an art collection valued between $20 million and $60 million -- was confiscated by Castro's incoming government. The Fanjuls went on to establish a successful sugar dynasty here in Florida, while struggling Cuba got propped up by its Communist comrades in the U.S.S.R.. But when the Soviet economy tanked it could no longer provide financial support to the island. Castro and company were forced to make money by selling off assets. Paintings could draw a nice price. 

"When the Fanjuls left Cuba, at the point of a gun, they never ceased in their efforts to secure and protect the art collection," the family wrote in a dramatic statement released to the media. They registered works with art-theft investigators in the US and London and has tried to recover them piece by piece.  

Not long ago, Fanjul family members got wind that a painting from their collection --  "Malaga Castel" by Spanish impressionist painter Joaquin Sorolla (the photo above is from an exhibit of his work)  -- had appeared in an international auction. They succeeded in tracing the painting to Scaioli.

It wasn't their first run-in with the dealer. Years earlier, the family arranged for an art dealer go undercover to find out who had sold one of their paintings to Sotheby's. That path led to Scaioli. According to a 2004 article in the Times of London, the family tried going after both Scaioli and Sotheby's then under laws that prevent "trading with the enemy." The offense was punishable by fines and up to ten years in jail. 

That effort, apparently, fizzled out. This time around, the family is looking for revenge using the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. It provides that anyone trafficking in property confiscated by the Castro regime can be booted from the U.S. Judging from the tone of the family's statement, Scaioli's expulsion would be satisfaction enough: "Naturally," the statement says, "for an art dealer to be barred from the largest art market in the world could be catastrophic for their business."

When asked to provide a contact at the State Department who could corroborate the presence of an investigation, a spokesman for the family referred Juice to an attorney who, thus far, has not returned messages.