FBI agents recover stolen Matisse after art heist

FBI agents have recovered what is believed to be a Matisse painting valued at $3 million that was stolen from a Venezuelan museum 10 years ago, and arrested two suspects, authorities said Wednesday.

Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City, were arrested and charged for transporting and possessing what is thought to be Matisse's 'Odalisque in Red Pants,' which was reported stolen from a museum in Caracas, US prosecutors said in a statement.

Marcuello Guzman and Ornelas Lazo made their first court appearance on Wednesday, and a pre-trial hearing was set for July 20, said the federal prosecutors in Florida.

If convicted, the defendants each face a possible maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison, the statement said.

Prosecutors said Marcuello Guzman admitted to the undercover agents during a meeting that the 1925 painting was stolen, and arranged to have it delivered to the United States from Mexico as part of the deal.

Ornelas Lazo reportedly acted as the courier. Upon presentation of the work to the agents on Tuesday, the pair were arrested, the statement said.

Local media earlier had reported a man and a woman tried to sell the painting to undercover FBI agents posing as art collectors at the Loews Hotel in the tourist hub of Miami Beach on Tuesday.

The museum of contemporary art in Caracas had acquired the painting in 1981 from the Marlborough Gallery in New York for nearly half a million dollars.

It had been on display ever since at the Venezuelan museum, except for a brief loan for a Spanish exhibition in 1997, but officials there discovered in 2003 that the painting that was hanging was a fake.

They were unable to determine exactly when the work was taken or who was responsible for the robbery.

Agents from the international police organization Interpol, the FBI and Venezuelan, British, Spanish and French police struggled to find any trace of the painting over the next decade.

Miami has grown into a dynamic art market, especially for contemporary works, in part thanks to the annual Art Basel show that attracts some of the most prominent buyers and art galleries in the world.

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