Art law Thefts News Italy

Former Juventus footballer caught up in stolen Chagall case

Roberto Bettega is not suspected of any wrongdoing, but is a claimant in the case against a Bologna dealer

Carabinieri in Turin take custody of Chagall's Le nu au Bouquet

For the second time in a year, a former footballer for Juventus FC, one of two teams in Turin, has fallen prey to an art crime. Roberto Bettega, who played for Juventus between 1969 and 1983, says that he bought Chagall’s Le Nu au Bouquet, 1920, from Italo Spagna, the director of the Bologna-based Galleria Marescalchi, for €1.2m in 2003. This version of events is disputed by Spagna, who says he did not sell the painting.

It appears that the Chagall may be a work stolen from the boat belonging to the American businessman Edward Cantor, while it was anchored at Savona, just west of Genoa, in 2002. Cantor’s son reported the theft when he discovered what he said was a poorly executed replica hanging in place of the original. The Italian authorities recently tracked down what they believe is the original painting to Bettega’s home in Turin: he has returned the painting to the Carabinieri and investigators believe “he bought the work in good faith”. The former footballer is now a claimant in the forthcoming trial against Spagna.

Spagna is under investigation by Interpol, Turin’s Carabinieri and the recently created Sezione Reati contro il Patrimonio Artistico (division for crimes against art heritage) working for Turin’s high court. He says he has no memory of the Chagall work or of conducting any transaction with Bettega. Two other people are involved in the investigation, both Romanian nationals—one was working on Cantor’s yacht at the time of the theft, while the other reportedly contacted the Musée Marc Chagall in Nice and pretended to be related to Cantor in order to have the work evaluated.

Last year, the Frenchman Jonathan Zebina, who played for Juventus from 2004 to 2010, found himself at the centre of an art scandal when a Mimmo Rotella forgery, Wise, 1965, and six others, were linked to his former gallery, JZ Art (see The Art Newspaper, March 2012, p7 and December 2012, p6). Like Bettega, Zebina was not suspected of any wrongdoing.

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