Police investigate suspicions concerning the Bernini export

THE POLICE investigator has refused the claim that by exporting the bust of Pope Paul V, designed by Italian Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the crime of fraud was committed.

Bust of Pope Paul V by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, sold in an auction and exported from Slovakia.Bust of Pope Paul V by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, sold in an auction and exported from Slovakia.(Source: Courtesy of Sotheby's)

Based on the prosecutor’s instructions, the police are now checking the suspicion of whether in the case the duties of a public official were not obstructed, the SITA newswire reported.

The bust, which had belonged to the art collection of prominent Slovak artist and art collector Ernest Zmeták, was considered a work of an unknown Italian artist. It was sold, via the Soga auction house, and exported abroad. It was revealed only later that the bust is an original, created by Bernini. Soga sold it for €24,000, though the value is much higher, SITA wrote.

Read also:How Slovakia lost a Bernini

Culture Minister Marek Maďarič ordered a probe into the case and filed a criminal complaint on suspicion that the people involved in exporting the piece could have known its real value and that persons assessing heritage values of a work of art could have acted in defiance of related regulations. At the same time he ordered a ministry commission to examine the export of the bust.

The results revealed serious flaws. The ministry employee responsible for issuing necessary permissions lost her job as she could not explain some of her actions. Also members of the committee which evaluated the bust could not say why they did not ask an expert to check the bust and its origin. They were all dismissed from their posts in the commission. Maďarič also recalled the head of the ministry’s cultural heritage department who was responsible for issuing the permission for permanent export, SITA wrote.

Additionally, Maďarič ordered the permission canceled to export the bust.

“This decision of the culture minister is valid and it is possible to submit an appeal only to the court,” the Culture Ministry press department said in early November, as quoted by SITA.

Maďarič also ordered the legislation and legal department of the ministry to check the possibilities of returning the bust to Slovakia. Even if the bust was returned, it would remain in private hands, as reported by SITA.

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