CONTESTED PAINTING: Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled (2012) oil on canvas painting

BRITAIN’S billionaire Reuben brothers turn out to be the owners of a mysterious investment firm that has popped up in one of the biggest art scandals in recent history.

The art world has been puzzling over who owns Guzzini Properties Ltd., one of the investors that claim ownership of a work sold by the dealer Inigo Philbrick. Wendy Lindstrom, an attorney for Guzzini in New York, confirmed that it’s David and Simon Reuben. A spokesman for the brothers also confirmed their ownership.

The Reubens have a combined net worth of $12.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Guzzini Properties filed a lawsuit over the work, Rudolf Stingel’s 2012 untitled portrait of Pablo Picasso, in October in New York. The complaint, which didn’t mention the Reubens by name, claimed Guzzini had bought the painting from Philbrick in 2017, along with two other works, for $6 million. Guzzini consigned the work to Christie’s for its May auction, where it fetched $6.5 million and which currently is holding the work.

The problem is, it appears two other firms had stakes in the work prior to Guzzini.

Satfinance Investment Ltd. paid Philbrick $3.35 million for a 50% share in it in January 2016, according to court papers. German art investment firm FAP GmbH says it agreed in February 2016 to buy the Stingel from Philbrick for $7.1 million. Guzzini is seeking a legal declaration that it’s the sole owner of the work, as well as an order for its return. Last week’s Art Basel Miami Beach was buzzing about Philbrick.

“My clients are philanthropic collectors, who, unfortunately, must now litigate to secure their rightful title to artworks after their good-faith, arm’s-length purchases,” Lindstrom said.

Earlier, little could be learned of who was behind Guzzini. One company directory listed a firm with the same name in the UK’s Jersey, while another listed it as a dissolved New Zealand company. Documents filed in the lawsuit didn’t name the firm’s directors or its location.

“Given the ongoing nature of the multiple legal cases in this matter, Christie’s agrees that determination of rightful ownership of the Stingel work by the courts is the next necessary step forward,” the auction house said in a statement.

Philbrick didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Philbrick’s sales to investors are at the center of six lawsuits in New York, Miami and London. Companies in Asia, Europe and the US have staked claims, some competing, to various pieces.

Once a regular at Art Basel and other events, Philbrick has seemingly vanished, failing to appear for court hearings in Miami and London. His lawyers in Miami stopped representing him. His galleries in Miami and London appear shuttered, and his assets were frozen by a London judge last month. (See related story on this page. — Ed)

Another investor with Philbrick, Singapore-based LLG PTE Ltd., told the judge that evidence suggests Philbrick holds $70 million of assets, directly or indirectly. LLG put the combined value of the art managed by his businesses at as much as $150 million. — Bloomberg