Nearly 300 works by Pablo Picasso must be returned to the family of the late artist, a French court ruled on 20 March, rejecting testimony from a retired Picasso employee who said the Spaniard's last wife gifted them to him 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. They were also ordered to hand over the 271 works, estimated at between €60-120m (£43.4-86.8m), to the heirs of Picasso, who died in 1973.

Le Guennec, employed by Picasso in his last home in Mougins in south-east France, said last month in Grasse that Jacqueline Picasso offered him the box containing drawings, sketches and other works as a gift, either in 1971 or 1972, with the consent of her husband.

"I received it simply as I have already said. It was given to me, and that's it," he told reporters inside the courthouse. The box sat in the 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. Le Guennec has always said he did nothing wrong and they were a gift.

"It's Madame (Picasso) who gave them. But if Madame gave them, Monsieur was aware of it. She wasn't going to do that just like that, was she?" he said through the garden railings of his small house tucked between Cannes and Grasse in the south of France in 2010 after the investigation was first opened.

He said he was given the paintings and he stuck them in a box in his garage. "I didn't really pay attention to it," he said, adding that he had nowhere to put the works in his humble, one-bedroom abode.