Paloma Botín, the daughter of Spanish Santander banking chairman Emilio Botín, and her husband Ricardo Gómez-Acebo, the Marquis of La Deleitosa, are the subject of an investigation into the potential fraudulent purchase of an antiquity dated from the 6th century B.C.E. The artifact was believed to have been looted from an archaeological site and subsequently trafficked illegally on the art market.
The work at the center of the investigation is a sculpture of an Iberian lioness that Botín purchased from an anonymous Spanish antiquities dealer, the Spanish outlet El País reported. Evidence that the sculpture had been traded illicitly was uncovered during a raid conducted by Spanish National Police’s Historical Heritage Brigade known as Operation Harmakhis in 2018 that resulted in the arrest of two art dealers in Barcelona. Following a court order, the artifact was then seized from a warehouse where the Botíns were holding it.
The two dealers and three alleged participants were arrested for illegally importing works from other countries, including mosaics and Egyptian artifacts. Authorities traced some objects uncovered in the operation as having come from locations across ISIS-occupied Libya between 2011 and 2016, a regional hotspot for antiquities looting. Since the start of the civil war in Libya in 2014, Spanish officials have reported an increase in trafficking of art from the area. The dealers at the center of the 2018 operation are facing charges of financing terrorism.
After being investigated and providing documentation that the couple purchased the sculpture in “good faith,” a judge has allowed the couple to appear in the court trial as “injured parties.” The documentation provided by the pair detailing the objects’ sale history is now being reviewed for authenticity. The couple could be eligible to seek compensation if the court decides the sale of the sculpture was fraudulent.
Pamela Botín is a member of the mega-collecting Botín family, which has regularly appeared on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list. Jaime Botín, her uncle, recently avoided jail time after attempting to smuggle a Picasso painting out of Spain.
A representative for the Centro Botín, a Spanish art center founded by the Botín family, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.