Romanian prosecutors question ex-finance minister over 3 Picassos, 100 paintings

Associated Press

Romanian prosecutors investigating an alleged bribery scheme have questioned the former finance minister about the origins of 100 paintings, including three works by Pablo Picasso.

Prosecutors questioned Darius Valcov on Friday, saying the paintings had been hidden by four of his friends. The works have been sent to art experts for evaluation. Valcov, under house arrest since Thursday, declined to comment.

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Among the paintings are works by Romanian painters Corneliu Baba and Nicolae Grigorescu as well as sketches by Picasso and works by Renoir and Andy Warhol. Prosecutors said some of the artworks had been purchased for him by an art dealer at two Bucharest auction houses.

Prosecutors said Valcov was an art collector who wanted to conceal the origin of money dishonestly gained.

Valcov resigned March 15 after prosecutors charged him with taking 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in bribes when he was the mayor of a small town in exchange for awarding contracts to a local businessman.

Valcov hid a Renoir painting, three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of gold and stashes of cash worth $410,000 in a friend's safe from 2011, prosecutors said. He was mayor of Slatina from 2004 to 2012.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Friday named Eugen Teodorovici, was previously the minister for European funds, as the country's new finance minister. He will be sworn in next week.

In an unrelated case, prosecutors on Friday arrested lawmaker Theodor Nicolescu and said he is suspected of receiving 6.2 million lei ($1.5 million) from 2008 to 2013 in exchange for overestimating the value of real estate handed back to former owners. The kickback he is suspected of pocketing came after he restituted land in 2007 that had been seized by the communists. At the time, he was deputy chief of state restitution property board.

Romanian prosecutors have launched a series of high-level corruption investigations in the past year.