ROME (Reuters) - Police have seized a portrait attributed to Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci from the vault of a Swiss bank during an investigation into tax crime and insurance fraud, an Italian court said on Tuesday.
Negotiations to sell the oil painting of a fifteenth-century noblewoman, Isabella D’Este, for around 120 million euros ($135.9 million) were at an advanced stage, the prosecutor’s office in Pesaro, Italy, said in a statement.
Police were first alerted to the existence of a possible da Vinci after a southern Italian lawyer was found in 2013 with a warrant to sell it for no less than 95 million euros. But the initial investigation failed to find the painting.
A separate investigation into tax crimes and insurance fraud uncovered evidence that eventually led police to the picture, which they seized on Monday in Lugano, near the Swiss-Italian border.
Investigators did not say who owned the painting or how many people were under investigation for conspiracy to traffic art illegally and to commit insurance fraud. Nor would they say whether anyone had been arrested. They did say some of the people involved were suspected of both crimes.
The painting was attributed to da Vinci partly on the basis of tests under fluorescent light. More tests will be carried out when it returns to Italy.
If they prove he was the artist, the painting will join the list of his works to have had a brush with the law. Those include the Mona Lisa, which was stolen from the Louvre in 1911.
The find is the latest in a series of Italian art seizures. Police seized thousands of artifacts and a house that had been turned into a private museum last week, and raids in Basel, Switzerland, led to the breaking up of an art trafficking ring in January.
($1 = 0.8832 euros)
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Larry King