Stolen Chagall and Picasso artworks found in Antwerp basement

Theguardian_ Two paintings by Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso have been recovered from a basement in the Belgian city of Antwerp, 14 years after they were stolen from an art collector in Israel.

The two artworks, a cubist portrait by Picasso known simply as Tête and Chagall’s L’homme en prière, showing a man praying, were stolen in February 2010 from a Tel Aviv villa owned by the Herzikovich family.

At the time, the two paintings were valued at $900,000 (£710,000). In the same heist, burglars also removed jewellery worth $680,000 from a safe, which has never been recovered.

Investigators achieved a breakthrough in their decade-long search for the painting at the end of 2022, when Belgian police received a tipoff that an art dealer in the Walloon capital of Namur was offering the two paintings for sale.

In a covert operation lasting several months, police tracked the movements of the suspect, a 68-year-old Israeli luxury watch dealer referred to by Belgian police as “Daniel Z”.

When federal police raided the suspect’s home last week at the request of the prosecutor, they found a significant amount of money, but not the paintings.

“The checks and police resources implemented during 2023 made it possible to establish that the suspect was indeed in possession of the works sought and that he could have them at his home or at the home of one of his relations,” police officials told the French-language Belgian daily Le Soir.

“Although confessing to possessing the paintings, the suspect refused to communicate where he had stored them.”

After widening their search to Antwerp and a building that previously housed an art dealership linked to past cases of stolen paintings, investigators recovered two wooden boxes with screwed-down lids containing the stolen artworks.

The paintings were undamaged and still in their original frames, police said. The main suspect was charged with receiving two paintings and placed under arrest.