LitFin backs art collector’s quest to recover paintings believed to be stolen

Party, oil on canvas, 1908, Kazimir Malevich

In a story so full of international intrigue it reads like the plot of a James Bond movie, LitFin is funding the pursuit of around 871 Russian avant-garde paintings believed to have been stolen from their rightful owner.

The paintings belong to Uthman Khatib, a private art collector and businessman of Palestinian origin, who acquired them in 2015 from Israeli art dealer Itzhak Zarug. At the time of the purchase, the works had been seized by the public prosecutor’s office in Wiesbaden, Germany, where Mr Zarug owned a gallery, over suspicions they were forgeries.  Mr Zarug was held on remand but released in 2018 after a Wiesbaden court dropped the more serious charges of forgery and criminal conspiracy against him. His collection, including the c.871 works that had been purchased by Mr Khatib, were returned to Mr Zarug in 2019.

However, shortly after that, Mr Khatib states that the art was stolen from his storage facility in Wiesbaden by someone known to the family. Mr Khatib’s son Jayyusi says he attempted to negotiate with the alleged thief for the return of the works, but took legal action after some of the paintings began resurfacing at auction houses in 2022.

International law firm Dentons, who is representing Mr Khatib, has already commenced its efforts to recover the works. In February, French court bailiffs seized more than 100 paintings believed to be worth over €100 million from a Paris lab. A similar raid took place in Frankfurt last year after the regional court authorised bailiffs to seize works owned by Khatib from a storage facility.

Maros Kravec, Managing Partner of LitFin stated:

“This important new deal represents LitFin’s commitment to pursuing opportunities throughout Europe and further afield. It’s complicated, cross cultural and requires the cooperation of a range of legal and investigative specialists. We are determined to generate value for claimants and our investors wherever it can be found.”