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Legal action Archives • Elginism

Showing results 1 - 12 of 109 for the tag: Legal action.

June 24, 2019

Greek bid to reject Sotheby’s lawsuit over bronze horse rejected

Posted at 12:42 pm in Greece Archaeology, Similar cases

An interesting, legal appeal involving disputed Greek artefacts has been taking place in the courts of New York state.

8th century BC bronze horse Sculpture owned by the descendants of art collectors Howard and Saretta Barnet

8th century BC bronze horse Sculpture owned by the descendants of art collectors Howard and Saretta Barnet

First of all, it is worth looking at the image of the bronze horse sculpture (that is the subject of the case).

It dates from the 8th century BC, but with it’s abstracted elegant form would not look out of place in a contemporary art exhibition.

This is a case where one could easily argue that the art has a value of it’s own purely on an aesthetic basis, separate from what any provenance might prove or dis-prove about it’s origins.

But this gets onto the basis of the story – there is very little provenance.

Our first record of the existence of the sculpture is in the catalogue of the May 6, 1967 Münzen und Medaillen auction in Switzerland.
Before that point we know nothing.

The current owners are the descendants of art collectors Howard and Saretta Barnet. They acquired the piece in 1973 from art dealer Robin Symes who “very probably” acquired it from the 1967 auction.

In the 1970s, Robin Symes was seen as a respected antiquities dealer – however, he has since been unmasked as a key player in an international criminal network that traded in looted archaeological treasures. Now, to the best of my knowledge there is no evidence that he was involved in any wrongdoing in this particular case – however, there is no evidence to the contrary either, other than the 1967 catalogue which gives a start to the item’s provenance.

On May 14th 2018, Sothebys in New York was due to host “The Shape of Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet” auction, which included this item as one of the lots. Meanwhile, Christos Tsirogiannis, an antiquities expert who scours auction catalogues noted this proposed sale and, sent a letter to a criminal intelligence officer at Interpol’s works of art unit stating that:

“Please find attached the three images of a bronze Greek figure of a horse, of the Corinthian type, from the confiscated Symes-Michaelides archive. The same figure is to be auctioned as lot 4 in New York, by Sotheby’s at their 15/4/2018 auction.” After citing the provenance given in Sotheby’s catalogue, he writes “Please notify the American judicial authorities in New York, as well as the Italian and Greek police authorities as it is of paramount importance to examine ‘Münzen and Medaillen AG’ in Basel in order to be discovered the identity of the consignor of this bronze horse back in 1967, a valuable information which will eventually lead to the country where the object was discovered.”

Subsequently, the day before the auction was due to take place, Greece’s Ministry of Culture sent the auction house a letter saying the the bronze horse sculpture was the property of Greece and therefore should be returned to Greece immediately. Sotheby’s withdrew this lot and proceeded with the rest of the auction.

As you may have guessed though, this is far from the end of the story. On June 5th 2018, A lawsuit was filed jointly by the Barnet heirs and Sotheby’s in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit asserted that Greece had interfered in the sale “without lawful justification.”

They sought a Declaratory Judgement that the bronze horse sculpture was “acquired lawfully and in good faith by the late Howard Barnet 45 years ago and has been part of their collection ever since.” They also sought a further ruling the Greece has no ownership rights and that they are permitted to continue with the sale of the work.

The basis of the lawsuit is the assertion by Sotheby’s that there is no factual basis to assert that the Bronze horse belongs to Greece. Once could easily counter this though with the fact that there is also no clear evidence that the sculpture was excavated and removed from Greece legally.

There is a good writeup of the case up to this stage here.

Now, as you might imagine, there are many interested parties keen to block cases such as this, which could potentially disrupt sales of any artefacts where the provenance is unclear. A letter to the Antiquities Trade Gazette by Joanna van der Lande, chairman of the Antiquities Dealers Association, stated that: “long-term damage is being inflicted on both the trade and museums” by the growing number of legal cases surrounding antiquities with long North American provenances.

Moving forward to today, last Friday (21st June), U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla rejected Greece’s claim to dismiss the lawsuit. Greece made the claim under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a 1976 US law that establishes the limitations as to whether a foreign sovereign nation (or its agencies) may be sued in U.S. courts.

The reason for the dismissal is under the section of the act that exempts commercial activity, which provides three bases under which a plaintiff can sue a foreign state.

  • When the plaintiff’s claim is based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States by the foreign state.
  • When the plaintiff’s claim is based upon an act by the foreign state which is performed in the United States in connection with commercial activity outside the United States.
  • When the plaintiff’s claim is based upon an act by the foreign state which is performed outside the United States in connection with commercial activity outside the United States and which causes a direct effect in the United States

Greece argued that such a broad interpretation of this exclusion “would have a chilling effect on the ability of foreign sovereigns to protect their cultural heritage.”

The US courts argued that the Greek Government engaged in commercial activity by sending the letter to Sotheby’s to halt the sale. They also noted that “some U.S. courts have said acts taken to advance a sovereign country’s cultural mission could be deemed commercial in nature.”

You can read the coverage of this stage of the cases here. Full details of the case are available here.

Whether Greece will appeal against this decision or not is ass yet unclear.

The case highlights some of the issues of handling looted cultural property cases under the current legal frameworks – the onus is generally on the claimant to prove that the items were looted, rather than the current owners to prove that their provenance is sufficient. When many of the illegal excavations took place some years ago and were unrecorded, this is often very tricky to do. From what I have read on the case so far, it is unclear whether any further details of the 1967 sale (particularly the vendor and purchaser) have been revealed in the course of the last year.

While the Foreign Sovereignty Immunity Act has many flaws, we should also not see it as being against restitution cases as such. Only a few days earlier, the court of appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a petition to re-hear a landmark ruling from that the heirs of the art dealers who sold the Guelph Treasure under duress during the Nazi era may pursue their claims in U.S. federal court. The meaning of this is that German state museum must face claims based on allegations of Nazi-looted art in their collections – the result of five years of denying the Guelph Treasure claimants any meaningful attention. How easy it is for a US court to enforce such a case in Germany is a separate question of course. There is a lot that could be learned from saga of Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al. a few years ago, where state courts participating in international affairs almost led to a major diplomatic incident between the USA and Russia.

September 12, 2018

Heirs of prior owner of Matisse’s Portrait of Greta Moll claim rebuffed

Posted at 11:26 pm in Similar cases

The National Gallery is trumpetting this decision, but it seems more down to legal technicalities than any judgement of innocence or otherwise

Legal action in restitution cases take many forms. One case that has interested me in the past is that of Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al. As I mentioned at the time, it had commonalities with a potential case I had heard presented relating to the same US court and the Parthenon Marbles.

When trying a case in a foreign court, there are many pitfalls to be aware of, not least the potential difficulties of enforcing any judgement. Another important aspect however in the US courts is that of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). I have heard reasons why both the above cases met (or would meet) the conditions set by the Act – but it is worth bearing in mind that other cases have not been so lucky.

This news story relates to the heirs of a painting by Matisse, which was given by the owners (in Berlin) to someone (in Switzerland) for safekeeping in the chaotic aftermath of World War Two. This presents an interesting case (from a British point of view), in that it neatly avoids the (necessarily specific, but thus rather blunt) definitions of the Nazi Era used the in UK’s Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Bill. Of course, as this case was tried in a foreign jurisdiction, the aforementioned act would not apply in this case anyway.

The person in Switzerland entrusted with looking after the artwork then sold it and kept the proceeds. The painting eventually ended up in the UK’s National Gallery.

In this case, the Federal Appeals court in New York has rejected the claim, due to the fact that it does not meet the conditions of the FSIA, because the painting was taken by an individual rather than a state.

That said, this is a technical argument that means that the case can not proceed. It in no way endorses (or not) the due diligence by the National Gallery in checking the origins of a work by a well known artist (which has echoes of the Feldmann paintings about it). Possibly another case brought under a different jurisdiction might find differently. With the Feldmann Paintings, while the British Museum claimed that they were acquired in good faith, it now argued that it felt there was an overwhelming moral case for their return. Perhaps the National Gallery should follow suit?

Matisse's Portrait of Greta Moll (1908)

Matisse’s Portrait of Greta Moll (1908)

From:
The Art Newspaper

Court rejects claim to Matisse owned by National Gallery
Rebuffing heirs, an appeals panel in New York says the court lacks jurisdiction
Nancy Kenney
11th September 2018 18:26 GMT

A federal appeals court in New York has rejected a claim to a 1908 Matisse painting owned by the National Gallery in London by three grandchildren of the muse portrayed in the work.

In demanding the work’s return, the heirs had argued that the painting, Portrait of Greta Moll, was illegally sold by a former art student to whom the painting had been entrusted for safekeeping in the aftermath of the Second World War. The portrait changed hands several times before it was acquired by the National Gallery in 1979.
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October 6, 2016

RIP Professor Norman Palmer

Posted at 8:18 am in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

A great mind, as a barrister he defended numerous cultural property cases

I was very sad to hear yesterday of the death of Professor Norman Palmer.

I have met him numerous times, both at conferences and other events relating to cultural property restitution, as well as sitting on the opposite side of the table from him, as part of the group interviewing a team about their suitability for representing Greece in the case to reunify the Parthenon Sculptures.

Readers of this site may be most familiar with him as part of the team with Geoffrey Robertson and Amal Clooney that met with the Greek Government in 2014. Palmer was also well known within the sphere of cultural property restitution for chairing the Human Remains Working Group, whose work eventually led to the change in UK law allowing the repatriation of human remains to indigenous peoples in Australia and elsewhere.

He advised governments and international bodies on the drafting of new cultural property laws and was instrumental in the resolution of various cultural property disputes. He was also a great supporter of mediation and other out of court settlement methods for cultural property disputes.

Immensely knowledgeable, Norman’s academic credentials added gravitas to any team he was a part of. He will be sadly missed.

Professor Norman Palmer QC

Professor Norman Palmer QC

From:
Institute of Art and Law

In Memoriam – Norman Palmer QC CBE
Posted on: October 5, 2016 by Alexander Herman

We are sad to announce that the Institute of Art & Law’s Academic Principal, Norman Palmer QC (Hon) CBE, has passed away. Norman was the guiding light of this organisation ever since its beginnings over twenty years ago. Along with his wife, Ruth Redmond-Cooper, he made the IAL what it is today. He provided countless hours of instruction to hundreds of students and will no doubt be sorely missed by all. His wisdom and intellectual curiosity led to the publication of foundational tomes, including Palmer on Bailment, Art Loans and Museums and the Holocaust, as well as dozens of articles in the area of art and cultural property law.

And some more details about him and his career.
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September 9, 2016

Mock Trial : Greece vs UK – The Parthenon Sculptures

Posted at 1:17 pm in Elgin Marbles, Events

A moot court is being held at Monash University in Melbourne to discuss the issue

A moot court (AKA mock trial) is being held at Monash University in Melbourne. The title is: Greece v UK: The Parthenon Marbles Case. The event is jointly organised by the Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association (HAL) and Monash Law School.

Please the link here to reserve tickets if you are planing on attending.

Greece V UK - The Parthenon Marbles Case moot court flyer

Greece V UK – The Parthenon Marbles Case moot court flyer

From:
Trybooking

HAL (VIC) – Greece v UK: Parthenon Marbles Case
19 Oct 2016

Description

Greece v UK: The Parthenon Marbles Case – moot court and panel discussion

This year marks 200 years since the British Government controversially purchased the Parthenon Marbles from Lord Elgin and displayed them in the British Museum. The longstanding legal and diplomatic dispute about who owns them – Greece or the UK – continues to this day.
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July 27, 2016

More on the Parthenon Marbles legal case inadmissibility

Posted at 1:06 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Further coverage of the rejection by the European Court of Human Rights of the first case brought there for the return of the Parthenon Marbles

The ECtHR might have deemed one case for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to be inadmissible, but this doesn’t mean that this is the end of legal battles to secure their return.

Read yesterday’s article for a more in depth understanding of the legal reasons and why these may just be a delay on the road to restitution, rather than a dead end.

The European Court of Human Rights Building in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights Building in Strasbourg

From:
Greek Reporter

European Court of Human Rights Throws Out First Legal Bid to Return the Elgin Marbles to Greece
By Kerry Kolasa-Sikiaridi
Jul 20, 2016

It has been 200 years since Greece was robbed of its famous marble Parthenon sculptures, known around the world as the so-called “Elgin Marbles.”

Just when it seemed that these 2,500-year-old marbles might actually be returned to their home in Athens, the European Court of Human Rights has thrown out the first ever legal motion to force the UK to return the sculptures to Greece, brought about by the Athenians’ Association.
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July 25, 2016

The Parthenon Sculptures and the European Court of Human Rights

Posted at 1:06 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Although one case may have been deemed inadmissible, this does not mean that Greece should give up legal action to secure return of the Marbles

I posted last week about the rejection of the case for the return of the Parthenon Marbles brought in the European Court of Human Rights by the Athenians’ Association. As I pointed out then, the inadmissibility was down to technical issues with the claim – not any sort of judgement on Greece’s right to ownership of the sculptures.

Since then, George Vardas from Australians for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures has nwritten a much more detailed summary of the legal issues involved behind the inadmissibility.

The European Court of Human Rights Building in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights Building in Strasbourg

From:
George Vardas (by Email)

The Parthenon Sculptures and the European Court of Human Rights
George Vardas

In a recent interview regarding the Parthenon Sculptures, the Director of the Acropolis Museum, Professor Dimitris Pandermalis, stated that “their return is a matter of cultural morality” and stressed that “there are human rights, but great monuments also have their own rights”. He was referring to the fundamental rights of integrity: “you cannot mutilate a great monument”.

So what do we make of the recent dismissal by the European Court of Human Rights of an application brought by an Athenian association alleging that the continued retention of the Elgin collection in the British Museum infringes certain provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights?
Read the rest of this entry »

July 20, 2016

Parthenon Marbles legal case rejected on technicality by ECtHR

Posted at 1:19 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

While the case has been deemed inadmissible, no judgement has been made on the merits of the case

A few months ago, I wrote about & published an interview with Vasilis Sotiropoulos, the legal advisor to the Athenians’ association. At this stage, the Association was trying to bring a claim in the European Court of Human Rights over the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

Since then, the claim has been rejected as inadmissible, but this is largely down to technical issues. Part of the decision relates to the fact that the Athenians Association brought the claim as an organisation, but that the European Court hasn’t recognised that a legal entity in the form of an association/club can invoke a violation of its own human rights. On this basis, if such a claim was to be brought by the Greek state, then this reason for inadmissibility would no longer be valid.

I’m posting the Independent’s article first, followed by the Athenian Association’s response & the legal decision itself.

There are other issues, particularly one relating to timing, but none of them completely closes the door on this case – hopefully I will have time to make a longer post about this in the next few days.

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

From:
Independent

First-ever legal bid for return of Elgin Marbles to Greece thrown out by European Court of Human Rights
Ian Johnston
19th July 2016

The first-ever legal bid to force the UK to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece has been thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights.

The court ruled that because the alleged theft of the sculptures from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple took place more than 150 years before the UK signed up to the human rights convention, it did not have the power to consider the lawsuit.
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May 11, 2016

Can international pressure help Parthenon Marbles case?

Posted at 1:12 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Despite previous contradictory statements, Greece is still motivated to pursue legal action if required

Further coverage of the statements by Greece’s Culture Minister, re-asserting the country’s willingness to follow a legal route over the Parthenon Marbles. This route is not their first choice, but will remain as an option if other efforts fail.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Newsweek

Greece Looks To Forge New Alliances To Win Back Elgin Marbles
By Elisabeth Perlman On 5/9/16 at 5:58 PM

The Greek government is not giving up in its quest to reclaim the Elgin marbles from the British Museum, where they have resided for almost two centuries.

Greece hopes that forging new strategic alliances might engender change. One option is to take the British Museum to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Alternatively, the southeastern European country could appeal to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and apply for an advisory judgment from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a bid to win back the marble statues.
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May 9, 2016

Greece hasn’t written off legal action over Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 10:24 pm in Elgin Marbles

During the last year, there have on more than one occasion been mixed messages from the Greek Government with regard to the possibility of legal action over the Parthenon Marbles.

Now, in a new interview, Culture Minister Aristides Baltas reveals that pursuing the issue in international courts remains a possibility. They still have a desire to deal with the case by other diplomatic methods, but if such endeavours fail, then it appears that they are open to the option of taking legal action. It is assumed that this reasoning is based on the report produced by a legal team from the UK commissioned by the previous ND government. The team consisted of Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer and Amal Clooney.

I will publish the legal advice in full in a separate post.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Guardian

Greece looks to international justice to regain Parthenon marbles from UK

As 200th anniversary of artefacts’ removal approaches, Greek culture minister says government will appeal to courts and the likes of UN

Greece has not abandoned the idea of resorting to international justice to repatriate the Parthenon marbles and is investigating new ways in which it might bring a claim against the British Museum.
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April 8, 2016

The Parthenon Marbles – why now is the time for legal action

Posted at 8:19 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Some weeks ago, I wrote about legal action being taken in the European Court of Human Rights by the Athenians’ Association, a private group of Greek citizens unconnected to the government.

Since then, I have been fortunate enough to conduct an in-depth interview with Vasilis Sotiropoulos, the Athenians’ Association Lawyer. In this interview, he helps to explain a bit more about the importance of the case to the Association, why it is important that action is taken now and some of the key issues on which the case is based.

Vasilis Sotiropoulos, Lawyer to the Athenians' Association, standing in front of the Parthenon

Vasilis Sotiropoulos, Lawyer to the Athenians’ Association, standing in front of the Parthenon

First of all, can you tell me a bit more about your legal background?

As for my background, I studied law at Athens University and I hold a Master’s in public law. After working briefly for the European Data Protection Supervisor, I began practicing in my own office with a focus on new technologies, intellectual property and human rights. I currently serve as the elected Regional Ombudsman of the Attica Region.

I have never previously come across the Athenians’ Association. Have they always had an interest in the case of the Parthenon Marbles?

Our organisation was always talking about this topic, because it is one of the most famous legal debates of all time. As a human rights lawyer, I have always supported the idea that we Athenians should have our day in court with regard to the cultural dimension of the rights concerned. The cultural dimension of the case is a legal issue that goes beyond the sovereign rights of the Greek State.

As Plaintiffs, the people of Athens play an important part. We must bear in mind that there are families that have been living in Athens for hundreds of years. Having served as the first Ombudsman in Athens Municipality, I had the opportunity to forge relationships with citizens who are proud for their Athenian identity. In the core of these people’s soul, there is a strong demand for justice regarding the case of the Parthenon Marbles. The ancestors of some of these people were present when Elgin’s team committed this unpunished crime.

In the Greek branch of Transparency International, where I was legal advisor for some years, we used to follow a very simple definition of corruption. “Corruption is the abuse of power for personal gain”. This is exactly the case with Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon Sculptures. This is the reason why I gladly accepted the proposal to represent the Athenians’ Association before the European Court of Human Rights, although not a member of the Association myself.

Read the rest of this entry »

February 19, 2016

Private Greek Citizens group to sue UK in ECHR over Marbles

Posted at 3:41 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

More coverage of the proposed legal case being pursued in the European Court of Human Rights by the Athenian Association.

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

From:
Athens News Agency

Private citizens’ association sues Britain at European Court of Human Rights for Parthenon Marbles
18/ 02/ 2016
Last update: 14:05

A private citizen’s group called the “Athenians’ Association” said on Thursday they filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights against the United Kingdom over the removal of the Parthenon Marbles by Lord Elgin in the 19th century, the association said in a press conference in Plaka on Thursday.

The association, which opened in 1895 and among whose aims is to research the history of Athens and help preserve of its cultural monuments, said the decision was taken after its board was informed about Britain’s refusal to participate in a mediation procedure, as part of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Goods in the Country of Origin.
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Athenian Association to sue UK over Parthenon Sculptures

Posted at 3:33 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

A lawsuit is being brought in the European Court of Human Rights over the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. The case is being brought by The Athenian Association, an Athens based organisation chaired by Eleftherios C. Skiadas, the vice mayor of Athens.

This case is interesting, as it is happening outside of the remit of the Greek Government, although it is unclear what knowledge the government has of the process. The Athenian Association were prompted to take action following the rejection of UNESCO mediation prior to the prorogation of Parliament in 2015.

It will be interesting to find out more details of this case in due course, in particular what arguments they are basing their case on.

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

Syllogos ton Athinaion logo

From:
The Athenian Association

APPEAL OF THE «ATHENIANS’ ASSOCIATION» BEFORE THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS FOR THE ACROPOLIS SCULPTURES

The historical “Athenians’ Association” (Syllogos ton Athinaion), which celebrated 120 years of existence this year (1895-2015), instituted proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights against the United Kingdom regarding the Acropolis Sculptures. The natives of the Greek capital set out the array of violations to their human rights regarding the cultural treasures of their city, characterised by Paul the Apostle as the «devotions of the Athenians». Indeed, this is the sole case worldwide of a UNESCO World Heritage Monument (1987) being despoiled through the removal of structural elements, such as the metopes and sculptures of the Parthenon.

Among the statutory objectives of the “Athenians’ Association”, special mention is made to “the making provision for the preservation and conservation of the monuments, works of art, etc., linked to the history of Athens”. Its founding members comprised descendants of the Athenians who stood up against the despoilment of the Parthenon by Lord Elgin. Besides, one of the very first actions undertaken by the Association was an event organised in 1896 to commemorate the liberation of the Acropolis from the Ottoman Turks and during which its deputy chairman, professor Theodossios Benizelos (1821-1900) mentioned that the Parthenon was a place of daily worship, the holy of holies, a life good for our ancestors and that the Athenians strongly protested against the despoilment of the Acropolis’ extant statues by Elgin.
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