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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Columbia

Friday, December 21, 2018

United States Files Complaint Seeking Forfeiture of Oil Painting Recovered by the FBI More Than 75 Years After Its Theft During the Second World War

Government Seeks to Return Painting to Ukrainian Government, Which Rightfully Owned It

            WASHINGTON – The United States has filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of an oil painting by Mikhail N. Panin that was recovered by the FBI decades after it was stolen during the Second World War. The United States intends to return the artwork to its rightful owner.

            The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu and Nancy McNamara, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

            The artwork, “Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina,” is an oil painting on canvas, measuring approximately 7.5 feet by 8.5 feet, created by Panin in 1911. It depicts Ivan the Terrible and his loyal adherents leaving secretly from the Kremlin for Alexandrovskya Sloboda. 

            The complaint was filed on Dec. 20, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and seeks forfeiture of the painting on the basis that it represents the proceeds of the interstate transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen goods.

            “The recovery of this art looted during World War II reflects the commitment of this office to pursue justice for victims of crime here and abroad,” said U.S. Attorney Liu.  “The looting of cultural heritage during World War II was tragic, and we are happy to be able to assist in the efforts to return such items to their rightful owners.”

            “As the FBI returns this painting to the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C., we do so with the purpose of preserving history,” said Assistant Director in Charge McNamara. “This piece of artwork is of significance not just for its monetary value, but for its place in the world of art and culture. The FBI continues to commit investigative resources to recover cultural property.”

            According to the complaint, the painting was transferred from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in 1913 to the collection of Ekaterinoslav City Art Museum (today the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum); was one of the 64 exhibits that comprised the first museum exposition in 1914; was exhibited at the permanent exhibition of the museum until 1941, and disappeared during the occupation of the city during the Second World War. 

            The painting subsequently surfaced in the United States. In 1962, it conveyed with the sale of a house in Ridgefield, Connecticut, by a Swiss citizen who emigrated to the United States in 1946. After the sale, the prior owners of the home located a certificate in the attic of the house commemorating the original homeowner’s service in the Swiss Army during the Second World War.  The original homeowner passed away in 1986. 

            In November 2017, the current homeowners attempted to consign the painting to an art gallery, but the gallery was notified by a Ukrainian art museum that the item had been stolen during the Second World War.  The FBI obtained custody of the painting, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office commenced forfeiture proceedings.

            The current homeowners have agreed to waive any claims to the painting.  If no other claims are filed, the government plans to return the painting to the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C. 

            The lawsuit is captioned United States v. One Painting Entitled Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina.

            This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zia M. Faruqui, Arvind Lal, Brian P. Hudak, and Supervisory Paralegal Specialist Elizabeth Swienc, all from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, are representing the government.  Assistance was also provided by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Taylor of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Asset Forfeiture
Press Release Number: 
Updated December 21, 2018