ROME — The Italian police have recovered 19 masterpieces hidden in attics and basements of three apartments in the city of Parma. Valued at more than $149 million, the art stash belonged to Calisto Tanzi, the disgraced founder of the recently-collapsed dairy company, Parmalat Finanziaria SpA.
With the help of Tanzi’s relatives, the former billionaire was able to hide away an impressive trove of paintings by some of the world's most famous artists. On Saturday, police seized a pencil on paper portrait of a ballerina by Degas, two van Goghs, including a depiction of a trunk of a willow tree and a still life, a watercolor by Cezanne and a pencil-work by Modigliani. There was also a self-portrait by Italian rock star Ligabue and other masterpieces by Picasso, Monet and Manet.
Tanzi, who is currently on trial for fraud linked to Italy’s biggest bankruptcy, had previously lied to authorities by telling them he had no other assets. Police said that Tanzi was preparing to sell at least one painting. “We had some suspicions about a few individuals,” said Gerardo Laguardia, the Parma chief prosecutor. “We were able to tap their phones. We were lucky. We realized that there were negotiations to sell one of the paintings, the Monet.”
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[Photo: Italian tax police officers hold a Giuseppe De Nittis painting, one of 19 masterpieces seized in Parma on Dec. 5, 2009. Courtesy AP Photo/Marco Vasini ]