Greek Ministry of Culture reiterates legal claim to artifact vs. Sotheby’s in NY

Α Decrease font Enlarge font
Greek Ministry of Culture reiterates legal claim to artifact vs. Sotheby’s in NYClaim of dominion over a bronze sculpture from the 8th century BC

NEW YORK – The Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic (the “Greek Ministry”) reiterates its claim of dominion over a bronze sculpture from the 8th century BC, an object the Ministry reasonably believes was illegally exported from Greek territory, according to thenationalherald.com.

The Greek Ministry was sued by the heirs of Howard and Saretta Barnet (Barnet Family), and by Sotheby’s Inc., the auction house that was preparing to auction the antiquity on the Barnet Family’s behalf. These parties sued the Greek Ministry in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking to establish valid title to the sculpture.

The Greek Ministry moved to dismiss the case, but on June 21, 2019, the court denied Greece’s motion, finding that the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the case pursuant to the commercial activity exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (the “FSIA”). 

The Ministry has appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, as reported in The National Herald. In particular, the Greek State Legal Council in cooperation with the Greek Ministry assigned the case to the law firms of Amineddoleh & Associates LLC and Foley Hoag LLP.

The chronicle

The lawsuit against the Greek Ministry, according to the first publication of the case in the Financial Times, was filed in New York on June 5, 2018. The case is considered the first of its type because this is the first time an auction house has sued a foreign government for taking steps to protect its national heritage. Typically, national governments and their agencies seek to protect cultural heritage by ensuring that looted art and antiquities do not appear on the international art market.

The item in dispute, a bronze horse sculpture dating to the 8th century BC was to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York on May 14, 2018, along with other items from the Barnet Collection. (The sculpture was expected to realize an estimated sales price of between $ 150,000 and $ 250,000.) Regarding the provenance of the sculpture, Sotheby’s catalog noted that the work was anonymously consigned to, and then anonymously purchased through, Münzen und Medaillen AG in Basel, Switzerland on May 6, 1967. That is the first appearance of the work in modern times. Sotheby’s catalog stated that British art dealer Robin Symes (a dealer with a criminal record and extensive history of dealing with looted antiquities) “probably” acquired it in the above-mentioned auction. (After withdrawing the sculpture from auction, Sotheby’s revealed that the information provided in the catalog was not true). Howard and Saretta Barnet purchased the item from Symes on November 16, 1973 and held it until their deaths.

The Greek Ministry sent a formal letter to Sotheby’s requesting two actions be taken. First, the Greek Ministry requested the withdrawal of the bronze sculpture from the scheduled auction. This request was based on the lack of documents demonstrating legal export from Greek territory, the suspicious circumstances surrounding the object’s first appearance on the art market in Switzerland, the anonymous nature of the sale in Switzerland, Symes’ involvement, the Ministry’s knowledge that the sculpture most likely was found in an area in Greece that was heavily looted during the decade in which it appeared on the market, and the three photos of the sculpture in the group of confiscated items on the island of Schoinoussa from the 2006 Symes-Michaelides Photographic Archive. Second, the Greek Ministry requested Sotheby’s cooperation in the repatriation of the sculpture as an ancient movable monument belonging exclusively to the Greek State, in accordance with Greek archaeological legislation and international conventions.

Before communicating with Sotheby’s, the Greek Ministry, on May 4, 2018, requested Interpol to investigate all relevant documents regarding the sculpture’s acquisition, focusing on the ownership and export documents relating to its first auction in 1967. Unfortunately, the ongoing investigation is fraught with difficulties because it had been half a century since its first auction, and the Swiss auction house’s documents had been destroyed during the past six decades.

In the meantime, Sotheby’s withdrew the bronze sculpture from the auction. Sotheby’s also sent the Greek Ministry a response letter asserting that the Ministry’s communication had placed a “cloud” over the object which affected its marketability. In the same letter, Sotheby’s demanded specific information about the time and manner of the sculpture’s export. The auction house demanded this information within ten days. Obviously, this was an impossible deadline, and left insufficient time for a full investigation and official translation of the documents to be sent in support of the Greek Ministry’s position.

The Greek Ministry was informed by an article in the Financial Times on June 5, 2018 that it was being sued in the United States. The Plaintiffs asked the court to: (1) to recognize the Barnet Family (not the Greek State) as the owner of the item, to hold that no property rights for the sculpture vested in the Greek State, and to find no basis for the object’s repatriation to Greece under U.S. or international law; and (2) to allow Sotheby’s to proceed with selling the sculpture on behalf of the Barnet Family.

The Greek Ministry, in cooperation with the Legal Council of State, assigned the case to the American law firm of Amineddoleh & Associates LLC to defend the rights of the Greek Ministry based on the provisions of the archaeological law, according to which ancient movable monuments belong exclusively to the Greek State, are not privately held, and are prohibited from trade on the international art market.

The American law firm filed a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of the Greek Ministry for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the FSIA. Sotheby’s responded to the Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the Greek Ministry’s letter was commercial activity, and thus left the Greek Ministry vulnerable to suit in the United States. By order dated June 21, 2019, the District Court denied the Greek Ministry’s Motion to Dismiss, finding that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the case pursuant to the commercial activity exception of the FSIA. 

The Greek Ministry has appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and added Foley Hoag LLP, which has extensive experience with the FSIA, to its legal team. Unfortunately, the Greek State is forced to spend resources defending itself in a foreign court. This case stems from the Greek Ministry fulfilling its constitutional mandate to protect the nation’s heritage by diligently examining the marketplace for antiquities that were looted, or potentially looted, from within its borders. The bronze sculpture undeniably originates from Greece, and it lacks a developed provenance or documentation attesting to its lawful removal from Greece. Greek law mandates that ancient property is exclusively owned by the Greek State and its people, and prohibits the export of certain types of property from Greek territory without permission. This principle has been protected by legislation since the early years of the Hellenic Republic. The first Greek archaeological legislation was enacted in 1834, and has since been updated to sufficiently protect against looting. But rather than working with the Greek Ministry to resolve this matter through a cooperative approach, Sotheby’s and its consignor sued to haul the Greek Ministry into a foreign court.

Parties interested in the lawsuit should be aware of the differences between fine art and the cultural heritage of a country. Antiquities deemed cultural heritage in Greece are protected by the sovereign for its people, and for all of humanity. The very survival of valuable treasures dating back to antiquity relies on sovereign protection and the intervention of a functioning cultural ministry. To silence the Greek Ministry in its efforts to protect against the sale of potentially looted items is to silence and stifle the very purpose of the Greek Ministry. And most dangerous is that this case could have long-standing consequences for other cultural agencies aiming to protect human heritage. These principles should be understood by members of the public interested in respecting and protecting cultural heritage.

RELATED TOPICS: GreeceGreek tourism newsTourism in GreeceGreek islandsHotels in GreeceTravel to GreeceGreek destinationsGreek travel marketGreek tourism statisticsGreek tourism report

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright: Antilock

Tornos
  1. 01/06 20:49

    Mt. Athos in Northern Greece reopening to visitors and workers under conditions

  2. 01/06 20:48

    Civil Aviation Authority on two-tier June rules on international flights to Greece

  3. 01/06 20:39

    World's rich buy Greek luxury homes during COVID-19

  4. 01/06 20:32

    18th Special Advisory Committee for SNF Heath Initiative in Athens

  5. 01/06 20:20

    Affluent Russians flew with private jets to Cyprus during COVID-19 lockdown

  6. 01/06 20:17

    Greek Prime Minister visits primary school in Kallithea suburb of Athens

  7. 01/06 19:26

    First export of Kozani saffron ready to ship from Greece to China

  8. 01/06 18:11

    AP: Greece lifts lockdown on Hotels, pools and Golf courses

  9. 01/06 15:04

    Government spokesperson: Reopening of primary schools based on advice of experts

  10. 01/06 13:35

    Greece's Foundation for Research & Technology EIT Climate-KIC partner

  11. 31/05 14:16

    Environment Minister: Greece to ban disposable plastics as of July 2021

  12. 31/05 14:07

    Big Fat Greek Wedding returns on Facebook with livestream coronavirus campaign

  13. 31/05 14:03

    President: Greece is a country of creativity, equality and respect of human rights

  14. 31/05 13:56

    International production to start filming on Greek island of Amorgos on June 20

  15. 31/05 13:50

    Seven new Covid-19 cases since Friday and again no new fatalities in Greece

  16. 31/05 13:43

    Cyprus expects post-COVID-19 increased August arrivals of up to 600,000 tourists

  17. 31/05 13:39

    New draft bill raises A/V production subsidies and extends digital services in Greece

  18. 31/05 13:38

    Call on South Africa’s government for financial relief to airline sector

  19. 31/05 09:21

    Media report: Lesser-known travel destinations in a reopening Greece

  20. 30/05 15:02

    International Air Transport Association: Airline debt to soar by 28%

  21. 30/05 14:59

    Greek Minister: Hagia Sophia belongs to world heritage and must be respected

  22. 30/05 14:54

    UNWTO launches global guidelines to reopen tourism

  23. 30/05 14:23

    Provocative recitation of Quran in Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (videos)

  24. 30/05 14:21

    Greek PM: We want our actions to talk not our words (video)

  25. 30/05 13:32

    Reduced ticket prices in public transportation in Greece as of June 1

  26. 30/05 12:17

    Greek Minister presents amendment for boosting domestic tourism

  27. 30/05 11:53

    Athens and Epidaurus Festival to announce its program in Greece next Tuesday

  28. 29/05 22:06

    How ancient Greeks regarded India’s Caste system in 300 BC

  29. 29/05 21:07

    “Trip to Greece” film promotes destination in most critical tourist phase

  30. 29/05 20:40

    Greek train services expand while iconic routes at Pelion and Kalavryta restart

  31. 29/05 18:44

    No deaths from Covid-19 again in Greece during the last 24 hours

  32. 29/05 15:53

    Greek government: Turkish 'fiestas' outside Hagia Sophia 'annoying'

  33. 29/05 15:34

    Celestyal: Reopening of cruise sector to follow adoption of EU rules

  34. 29/05 13:39

    Greece to open its borders for inbound flights to these 29 countries from June 15

  35. 29/05 11:23

    International Documentary Festival on Castellorizo island on August 23-30

  36. 28/05 20:22

    AP: Austria takes Covid-19 precautions as it awaits summer tourist season

  37. 28/05 20:06

    Muslims pray in front of Hagia Sophia to revert historic monument into Mosque

  38. 28/05 19:47

    Brookings webinar with Greek PM on Greece’s COVID-19 response (video)

  39. 28/05 19:41

    Greek government's plan on re-opening of tourism sets five priorities

  40. 28/05 19:18

    AP: Europeans soak up the sun but Coronavirus travel rules a puzzle

  41. 28/05 19:04

    US to donate €2.9 million for refugee unaccompanied minors in Greece

  42. 28/05 18:23

    Greek police forces in Evros to be reinforced by 400 officers

  43. 28/05 18:12

    Greek Tourism Minister: Our target is to be ready to welcome every tourist

  44. 28/05 18:02

    AP: EasyJet and American Airlines to reduce workforce amid Covid-19

  45. 28/05 16:22

    PM: Greece secured €32 billion as a result of the government's consistent work

  46. 28/05 16:00

    COVID-19 Observatory: Greece's good course even more firmly established

  47. 28/05 15:41

    No coronavirus lockdown Swedish tourists welcome on Cyprus yet

  48. 28/05 14:56

    Health Minister: Single management and protocols for all Greek islands

  49. 28/05 14:42

    European Best Destinations: Monolithi Beach in Greece the safest in the whole of Europe

  50. 28/05 13:12

    WTTC presents first global safety stamp for 'Safe Travels' protocols around the world

  51. 28/05 01:37

    Greek firm concludes first phase of construction works in Agia Napa Marina

  52. 28/05 01:24

    Greek island medical staff being trained to deal with potential coronavirus cases

  53. 28/05 01:11

    GNTO and National Theatre in Athens to promote cultural tourism in Greece

  54. 28/05 00:34

    Greek Prime Minister welcomes European Commission aid proposal of €750 billion

  55. 27/05 23:40

    Aegean airline resumes foreign flights from Thessaloniki June 15

  56. 27/05 22:12

    Athens Open Air Film Festival offers unforgettable nights to movie fans

  57. 27/05 21:55

    European Union Covid-19 Recovery Fund to allocate €33.4 billion to Greece

  58. 27/05 20:53

    No new deaths from coronavirus pandemic in Greece since Tuesday

  59. 27/05 20:19

    Greece to invest its portion of the EU Recovery Fund 'prudently and responsibly'

  60. 27/05 19:27

    Telegraph praises Greece for moving early and decisively to keep Covid-19 out

  61. 27/05 16:35

    The New Orthodox Observer multimedia content now completely online

  62. 27/05 16:25

    Cyprus pledges to cover costs for coronavirus-hit tourists and families

  63. 27/05 13:19

    Greek doctors: Vitamin D levels correlate to outcomes in coronavirus cases

  64. 27/05 13:15

    Latin America’s largest airline Latam filed for bankruptcy

  65. 27/05 11:59

    Unstable weather to continue in Greece during the next 24 hours

  66. 26/05 23:03

    Greek cruise operator Celestyal Cruises stops all voyages until July 30

  67. 26/05 22:34

    Cyprus ends 14-day coronavirus quarantine in tourism re-opening

  68. 26/05 22:29

    Jerusalem's Holy Sepulcher reopens following Covid-19 closure

  69. 26/05 22:08

    CNN joins World Tourism Organization on #traveltomorrow campaign

  70. 26/05 21:41

    Discover “Lovers’ Cave” only 36km from the centre of Athens

  71. 26/05 21:15

    International Air Transport Association chief at media briefing on COVID-19

  72. 26/05 20:15

    Greece's Piraeus becomes top container port in entire Mediterranean

  73. 26/05 19:23

    Greece records ten new coronavirus cases throughout the country

  74. 26/05 19:06

    Greek PM to Bild: We will open tourism to countries with similar Covid-19 data

  75. 26/05 18:56

    Survey: One in three Greeks will always carry antiseptic from now on

  76. 26/05 16:37

    US airline shows strong interest in more flights to Greece

  77. 26/05 15:49

    Grecotel hotel chain sends message of optimism for tourism this summer

  78. 26/05 15:30

    FM: Greece has proved that it can protect our borders, the borders of Europe

  79. 26/05 12:55

    Deutsche Welle: Germany prepares to open up to 31 European countries on 15 June

  80. 25/05 23:04

    Admire rare “horseshoe cloud” from the sky of Crete

  81. 25/05 22:10

    AP: Repatriated Cypriots cause rise in coronavirus cases after lockdown eases

  82. 25/05 22:04

    Endowment for Orthodoxy and Hellenism Scholarship available by Faith

  83. 25/05 21:10

    Greek Minister: 'We don't want a summer without culture'

  84. 25/05 20:41

    Weather to change with rain, winds and hail in Greece till end of the week

  85. 25/05 20:29

    UNWTO President issues special message to celebrate Africa Day on May 25

  86. 25/05 20:28

    MIT Professor interview: Greece on good coronavirus recovery path

  87. 25/05 19:48

    Greek islands and ferries open and ready for big first wave of tourists in Greece

  88. 25/05 18:02

    Greek PM: Results in tourism will be better than expected

  89. 25/05 17:44

    Greek Finance Minιster: 'We are not discussing cuts to wages and pensions'

  90. 25/05 16:10

    German airline Lufthansa to resume flights to Greece in mid-June

  91. 25/05 15:59

    AP: German government fund greenlights €9 billion in aid to Lufthansa

  92. 25/05 15:13

    Transport Minister: Thessaloniki metro will delivered in 2023 according to schedule

  93. 25/05 13:33

    Five exotic Greek beaches with crystal clear waters

  94. 25/05 13:11

    Social distancing and masks recommended as Cyprus relaxes coronavirus restrictions

  95. 25/05 11:19

    Primary schools and kindergartens to reopen in Greece on June 1st

  96. 24/05 14:11

    Day-care centers for the elderly and disabled children to reopen in Greece on Monday

  97. 24/05 14:06

    Athens City plan to ban traffic over the summer and give center to pedestrians

  98. 24/05 13:48

    Three new cases of the coronavirus in Greece during last 24 hours

  99. 24/05 13:30

    Travelling to all Greek islands resumes on Monday

  100. 24/05 11:13

    Cafes, restaurants open for business in Athens on Monday