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September 2023

Lisbon’s Museum of Contemporary Art to Showcase Artworks Confiscated from Portuguese Collector.

Scheduled to open its doors in October 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, a new contemporary art museum will prominently showcase artworks drawn from a collection that had previously been subject to state confiscation. Comprising over 900 art pieces, the collection boasts works by eminent artists including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, Gerhard Richter, and Francis Bacon. A 2006 valuation by Christie’s auction house estimated its worth at €316 million ($352 million). This collection, renowned as the Berardo Collection, was owned by prominent Portuguese business tycoon José “Joe” Berardo. Scheduled to be showcased in the museum’s inaugural presentation on October 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Berardo Collection is set to share the spotlight with other noteworthy collections such as the Ellipse Collection, the Teixeira de Freitas Collection, and an independent exhibition featuring the works of Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere.

The case: The Portuguese government seized control of the Berardo collection in 2019 subsequent to Berardo’s failure to settle a debt exceeding $1 billion to three Portuguese banking institutions. Notably, the artworks in question were employed as collateral against the bank loans in question. Following these events, Berardo faced legal proceedings related to alleged fraud, leading to his arrest in 2021. Subsequently, he was released on bail.

It had been alleged that Berardo took steps to transfer a portion of his art collection into a trust arrangement, purportedly as a measure to shield these artworks from potential creditors. The situation unfolded following his testimony before a parliamentary committee in May 2019, during which he asserted that he bore no personal debt and that the loans he had procured were on behalf of companies with which he held affiliations. Subsequent to this testimony, the collection situated at the Museu Coleção Berardo was seized as collateral in accordance with legal proceedings. Portuguese authorities initiated an investigation into alleged instances of money laundering and tax fraud involving several domestic banks. Berardo was accused of orchestrating a scheme to defraud the state-owned Caixa Geral de Depósitos (CGD), one of the three banks that initiated legal proceedings against him. The allegations contended that CGD sustained losses amounting to $521 million. Prosecutors asserted that the decision by CGD to extend a loan to Berardo’s business group was marred by deviations from “good practices” and potentially constitutes criminal conduct. At present, CGD has refrained from issuing any public response to the statements put forth by the prosecutors.

The Berardo Collection is not the sole collection embroiled in controversy, as the Ellipse Collection also bears a complex history. This assortment was curated by the late banker João Rendeiro, who found himself ensnared in bankruptcy proceedings and subsequently fled the country in September 2021. His eventual arrest in South Africa nearly a year later was followed by his unfortunate demise by suicide while in custody during the month of December. The unveiling of this museum establishes an unparalleled platform for both art aficionados and the general public to engage with the Berardo Collection’s multifaceted artworks. Furthermore, it offers an opportunity to explore the nuanced narratives surrounding these art pieces and the collectors involved.