Legal concerns foil Portugal's ambition to recoup bank debts with Miro auction in London

The Associated Press

FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 file photo, auction house workers adjust Joan Miro's 1968 oil painting "Women and Birds" which has an estimated sale price of 4-to-7 million pounds ($6.5 million to $11.5 million), in a room with other works by Miro, at Christie's auction house in central London. Portugal is hoping a master of surrealism can help taxpayers recoup some of the millions they lost rescuing a failed bank. The government is selling 85 works by Spanish artist Joan Miro that became public property when Banco Portugues de Negocios was nationalized in 2008. Christie's in London, which is handling the two-day sale starting Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, describes the collection as "one of the most extensive and impressive offerings of works by the artist ever to come to auction." (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

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By BARRY HATTON, Associated Press

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Legal wrangles have thwarted debt-heavy Portugal's attempt to raise cash by auctioning a collection of works by Spanish artist Joan Miro.

The sale of 85 works by the surrealist master was one of the highlights of a two-day auction of Impressionist and modern art in London, beginning Tuesday.

But Christie's called off the sale a few hours before it was due to start, citing legal concerns.

Earlier in the day, a Lisbon judge denied a request from Portugal's main opposition Socialist Party for an injunction to stop the sale of the public property from a nationalized bank, which was expected to raise at least 36 million euros ($48 million).

But Christie's said in a statement the court challenge created "legal uncertainties" that could bring questions about future ownership rights.

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