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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Stolen Art Watch, Picasso Stolen & Recovered From Jailed Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko

Picasso Artwork Missing from Ransacked Mansion is Found

Police believe the thief left the lithograph sitting against a fence near Pavlo Lazarenko's home so that it would be easily found.

A missing Pablo Picasso lithograph worth tens of thousands of dollars was found propped up against a fence Sunday near the Novato mansion from which it was stolen last month, Novato police said.

The artwork was lifted from the home of Pavlo Lazarenko, a former prime minister of the Ukraine who is serving time for money laundering. A large group of teenagers had been partying at the Obertz Lane residence, in the hills of southern Novato, and it is suspected that one of the teens made off with the Picasso piece.

Police Lt. Keith Heiden said last week that it was evident the home had been entered forcibly and had been vandalized. No one associated with the May 27 party was arrested, but police have identified one suspect and expect to identify more soon, police said.

Officers responded to a spot near Burning Tree Lane and Obertz Lane in the Marin Country Club area of Ignacio at 8:22 a.m. Sunday after a resident saw the lithograph, reported missing on May 28, sitting against a fence near a sidewalk, according to Novato police Sgt. Eric Riddell. Police believe it was placed there with the perpetrator's intention of having it found.

The Picasso piece, titled femme au chignon ("woman with hair bun") is being held in the evidence room at the Novato police station, Sgt. Jennifer Welch said. The original was created in 1957 with crayon on "arches" paper; it is 22 inches by 17 3/8 inches, according to several art websites. lists its value at $25,000 to $35,000.

"We're pleased the lithograph has been located, but there are still outstanding items yet to be located," she said.

On June 5, the property manager listed the Picasso lithograph, silver candlestick holders, clothing, laptop computers and other personal items among the property stolen from the 19,500-square-foot mansion. Welch said many of those items have not been recovered.

Hundreds of people were found inside the mansion on the night of May 27, when police were tipped off about a party. Riddell told the Marin Independent Journal that the young people poured out of the home and into nearby open space areas to elude responding officers.

Novato police have been in steady communication with Dugsbery Inc., which manages the home for Lazarenko. Welch said the property managers have taken extra steps to improve the mansion's security.

"We're asking residents if they see suspicious gatherings to call us right away," Welch said. "The house itself is very unique and extremely isolated. Opportunities like this for people to occupy it are pretty rare."

Lazarenko is slated to be released from Terminal Island prison near Los Angeles on Nov. 1, the Marin IJ reported. He was convicted in absentia in Switzerland in 2000 of laundering money. He had fled to the U.S. in 1999 and was detained in New York City.

In 2004, Lazarenko was convicted by a federal jury in San Francisco of conspiracy and money laundering between 1994 and 1997. He was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined $10 million in August 2006 but his attorney appealed the conviction and sentence.

In 2008, an appellate judge dismissed six counts but upheld eight money laundering and conspiracy counts.

Picasso stolen after party at empty mansion

Novato police have a multi-layered mystery on their hands. On the surface, it appears to be a typical break-in, but it involves an outrageous mansion, a former head of state, some partying teenagers and a missing art treasure.

If you were a teen and knew a massive mansion with six pools, seven bedrooms and 10 bathrooms was sitting empty, but furnished in the Novato hills, wouldn't you want to party in it?

"Well you know I drove past it and saw a bunch of kids, like kid cars, a bunch of kids hopping over the fence and stuff," neighbor Danny Dibble said.

Eddie Murphy lived in the mansion while filming a movie in San Francisco, but the present owner is former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko. He's in federal prison, convicted of hiding tens of millions of stolen dollars in American banks.

But now he is also a victim. When police raided an illegal party on May 27, more than 100 kids scattered into the open hills around the place. Some did not leave empty-handed; they took property with them.

The report of missing items included $5,000 in silver candle sticks, leather coats and laptop computers, as well one big ticket item -- a lithograph by Pablo Picasso with an estimated value of $30,000.

Lazarenko should get out of federal prison this November. He will return to a big house, $2 million in bills for back taxes and at this rate, at least one Picasso-less wall.

"If someone does come across something that looks like a Picasso or has 'Picasso' written on there, give us a call," Novato Police Lt. Keith Heiden said.

The house's caretaker declined to be interviewed for the story.

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