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GRASSE, France (Reuters) - Nearly 300 works by Pablo Picasso must be returned to the family of the late artist, a French court ruled on Friday, rejecting testimony from a former employee who said the painter's last wife gave them to him as a gift over 50 years ago.
Pierre Le Guennec, 75, a retired electrician, and his wife Danielle, 71, were given a suspended sentence of two years in prison for handling stolen goods. They were also ordered to hand over the 271 works, estimated at between 60-120 million euros ($64-$128 million), to the heirs of Picasso, who died in 1973.
Le Guennec, employed by Picasso in his last home in Mougins in southeast France, told the court in Grasse that Jacqueline Picasso offered him the box containing unsigned collages, sketches and paintings with the consent of her husband in either 1971 or 1972.
"One night, Madame called me in the hallway as I was leaving and told me, 'This is for you'," he testified.
The box sat in Le Guennec's garage for nearly 40 years before the couple brought it to Paris to be appraised in 2010. After the discovery of the cache, Picasso's heirs contacted authorities who opened an investigation.
One of Picasso's sons, Claude Ruiz Picasso, said he was satisfied with the ruling and said the collection, believed to have been created between 1900 and 1932, included important works and could now be exhibited.
"He's got a lot of cheek to try and make us swallow this story," Maya Picasso, one of the artist's daughters, told reporters.
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Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Ingrid Melander