Stolen Picasso painting recovered by New Jersey officials

A stolen painting by the artist Pablo Picasso was recovered in New Jersey and authorities are now taking steps to return the work to its rightful owner, the French government.

In a Brooklyn court on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil action to forfeit Picasso’s “La Coiffeuse” (The Hairdresser) that had been smuggled into the U.S. from Belgium on Dec. 17 of last year.

“A lost treasure has been found,” U.S. Attorney Lynch said in a press release. “Because of the blatant smuggling in this case, this painting is now subject to forfeiture to the United States. Forfeiture of the painting will extract it from the grasp of the black market in stolen art so that it can be returned to its rightful owner.”

The 104-year-old oil painting done in the cubist style was reported stolen from a museum storeroom in Paris in 2001, according to a Justice Department press release. At the time, it was worth about $2.5 million, Reuters reported.

Authorities alleged the person who sent the package falsely completed the customs declaration, labeling the item a holiday “art craft” worth 30 euros ($37) and including a cheeky message: “Joyeux Noel” (Merry Christmas).

Upon its arrival in the United States, the shipment was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the painting was subsequently seized by Homeland Security Investigations.

The filing of the civil complaint is the first step in an effort to return the work to the French government.

In the south of France on Feb. 10, Picasso’s former electrician and his wife went on trial to face charges of possessing 271 stolen drawings and paintings by the late Spanish artist.