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. 23/09 16:06

    Arcturos Sanctuary to give home to three rare Eurasian lynxes in Greece

  2. 23/09 15:57

    Greek organic farm wins two gold awards at the 'Great Taste Awards 2021' in London

  3. 23/09 15:37

    'Under the Light of Apollo: The Louvre in Delphi' exhibition inaugurated in Greece

  4. 23/09 14:27

    Wine helping tourism recover in Greece

  5. 23/09 14:01

    Cyprus to participate in EXPO2020 to be organized in Dubai

  6. 23/09 13:43

    Greek Island of Milos presented by Louis Vuitton in new ad campaign

  7. 23/09 12:49

    World Tourism Organization organizes First World Sports Tourism Congress

  8. 23/09 12:22

    Council of Rectors in favour of in-person attendance at Greek universities

  9. 23/09 11:32

    Harvard University and Tufts University hold conference on Greek Revolution

  10. 23/09 09:10

    IATA urges Ethiopian government to maintain support for aviation sector

  11. 22/09 23:28

    Media report: Despite COVID-19 rise, Greece won't tighten health measures

  12. 22/09 22:43

    Real estate taxes for 2021 posted by Greece's tax service online

  13. 22/09 21:39

    Five lesser known Greek islands featured in Condé Nast Traveler

  14. 22/09 21:02

    Greece records 2,329 new Covid-19 infections and 26 fatalities on Wednesday

  15. 22/09 20:52

    Investment ministers of Greece and Saudi Arabia discuss strategic cooperation

  16. 22/09 20:35

    Athens Acropolis Museum upgrades services with new, interactive website

  17. 22/09 19:48

    Cyprus narrows its safe list down to three EU countries for tourist arrivals

  18. 22/09 17:10

    IATA announces speakers and agenda for the World Air Transport Summit in Boston

  19. 22/09 15:06

    2022 Edition IATA manuals reflecting vital airline standard updates now available

  20. 22/09 13:56

    UNWTO: Urgent global call for commitment to a decade of climate action in tourism

  21. 21/09 19:00

    Greek government spokeperson: 'This is now a pandemic for the unvaccinated'

  22. 21/09 17:03

    US Navy will add second base at Souda Bay on Greek island of Crete

  23. 21/09 15:10

    Sector chiefs: Revenues from Greek tourism could reach €12 bln this year

  24. 21/09 13:45

    U.S. to relax travel restrictions permitting entry for vaccinated European visitors

  25. 21/09 12:55

    IATA on US decision to lift COVID-19 travel restrictions from certain countries

  26. 21/09 12:52

    Temperatures to plunge up to 9C below seasonal average in Greece this week

  27. 21/09 11:26

    Third dose vaccination appointments for those over 60 to open in Greece on September 30

  28. 20/09 17:11

    French president and wife visit the Athens Acropolis on Friday

  29. 20/09 16:59

    Norwegian Ambassador to Athens: Changes in Greek energy sector are impressive

  30. 20/09 16:48

    Greek Education Minister notes high rate of vaccination among students

  31. 20/09 16:13

    Monica Bellucci in Athens for three nights for play about Greek diva Maria Callas

  32. 20/09 16:06

    World Tourism Day 2021 theme coincides with Cyprus National Tourism Strategy

  33. 20/09 15:54

    Travel and Leisure: Greece dominates list of top-20 islands of Europe

  34. 20/09 14:16

    Bank of Greece: Greek travel receipts soared 139.7% during first seven months in 2021

  35. 20/09 13:36

    Greek government spokesperson: The Athens Declaration a milestone for EU Med 9

  36. 20/09 12:04

    The Greek National Opera returns to Stavros Niarchos Hall in Athens

  37. 19/09 21:20

    Deputy Education Minister: High vaccination rate in Greek universities encouraging

  38. 19/09 20:00

    Greece to administer third dose of Covid vaccines to those older than 60

  39. 19/09 19:26

    1,305 new Covid-19 cases and 33 fatalities recorded in Greece on Sunday

  40. 18/09 16:43

    Air passenger traffic in Greece “took off” in August

  41. 16/09 19:31

    Metro will not be reaching Athens Airport station for several hours on Friday and Saturday

  42. 16/09 19:22

    Greece records 2,322 new covid-19 infections and 42 fatalities on Thursday

  43. 16/09 18:41

    Athens Acropolis site to shut down for 3 hours on Sunday

  44. 16/09 17:35

    AP: Greece's courts require workers and users vaccinated or not COVID-19 infected

  45. 16/09 16:57

    EUmed 9 summit being held at SNFCC in Greek capital of Athens on Friday

  46. 16/09 16:26

    Irish airline Ryanair planning to create 5,000 jobs over the next five years

  47. 16/09 15:10

    Passione Rossa Ferrari Club road show at Piraeus port for 'Days of the Sea' festival

  48. 16/09 13:15

    Gordon, Gino & Fred Go Greek kicks off on ITV channel on September 27

  49. 16/09 11:05

    Cyprus Deputy Minister sees prospects for Saudi tourists through Bahrain

  50. 16/09 10:49

    Minister estimates that €6 bln will be chanelled to IT and telecoms projects in Greece

  51. 15/09 14:49

    COVID-19 pandemic expected to infect 50,000 children aged 12-18 in Greece in Autumn

  52. 15/09 14:47

    UNWTO members plan coordinated restart of sector in Asia and the Pacific

  53. 15/09 13:30

    Greek Finance Minister leaves open possibility of further favourable interventions

  54. 15/09 12:03

    Greek government takes balanced measures to protect the health and the rights of citizens

  55. 15/09 09:33

    Hellenic Development Bank and Federation of Industries of Greece sign joint actions memo

  56. 14/09 18:58

    AP: 80% of adult population vaccinated with at least one dose in Cyprus

  57. 14/09 15:23

    Education Minister: Health protocols in Greek schools will change

  58. 14/09 14:22

    IATA Regional Vice President in Asia-Pacific

  59. 13/09 21:52

    14th Animasyros 2021 International Animation Festival starts on September 22

  60. 12/09 14:32

    Greece puts squeeze on unvaccinated citizens barring them from indoor spots

  61. 12/09 12:36

    Greek Foreign Ministry expresses solidarity to U.S.A. on 20th anniversary of 9-11 attacks

  62. 11/09 16:27

    Athens Half Marathon race to be dedicated to late composer Mikis Theodorakis

  63. 11/09 16:20

    UNWTO: Innovation and partnerships to make wine tourism driver rural development

  64. 11/09 16:11

    Modified covid test requirements for domestic travel in Greece on Monday, September 13

  65. 09/09 22:37

    Minister: Coronavirus vaccination centers coming to Greek universities

  66. 09/09 21:59

    Greek PM: EKO Acropolis Rally 2021 'Rally of Gods' is 'here to stay'

  67. 09/09 20:29

    1 in 4 high school students in Greece have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine

  68. 09/09 19:50

    Greece records 2,170 new covid-19 infections and 43 fatalities on Thursday

  69. 09/09 14:54

    Minister: Larnaca Port and Marina project the largest project ever in Cyprus

  70. 08/09 19:41

    Greece will launch COVID-19 vaccination campaign to 12-17 year-olds

  71. 08/09 19:30

    Statement concerning Celestyal Cruises sale of The Experience published

  72. 08/09 16:36

    Greek weather service warns of heavy rain and storms

  73. 08/09 15:25

    Education Minister outlines protocol for schooling system in Greece

  74. 08/09 11:45

    Free self-tests available to all school students in Greece as of Wednesday

  75. 07/09 18:08

    Greece records 2,807 new COVID-19 cases and 38 fatalities on Tuesday

  76. 07/09 16:32

    AP: Vulnerable Greeks and over-60’s to get COVID-19 booster shots

  77. 07/09 16:04

    Roads temporarily closed in downtown Athens due to EKO Acropolis Rally

  78. 07/09 14:24

    Tourism Minister: Greece will continue to receive USA visitors until end of the season

  79. 07/09 14:11

    ELSTAT: Greek economy grew 16.2% in Q2

  80. 06/09 20:05

    AP: Greece starts administering COVID-19 vaccines outside churches

  81. 06/09 19:01

    Greece records 1,765 new Covid-19 cases and 47 fatalities on Monday

  82. 06/09 17:55

    UNWTO connects investors with Ministers of Tourism at Cabo Verde Forum

  83. 06/09 15:15

    Meeting discusses measures for Greece's Acropolis Rally 2021 on September 9

  84. 06/09 14:08

    Greek government has two goals: protecting public health and restoring public life

  85. 06/09 13:16

    French aerobatic team flies in formation using Greek colours above Athens Acropolis

  86. 06/09 12:05

    Strong winds disrupt some ferry lines in the Aegean Sea of Greece

  87. 06/09 11:11

    UNWTO: Africa's tourism chiefs identify investments as key to sustainable recovery

  88. 05/09 22:12

    Cyprus announces that August of 2021 was hottest month on record since 1983

  89. 03/09 22:22

    IATA: European travel rules confusion wasting advantages of Digital Covid Certificate

  90. 02/09 19:14

    Greece records 2,840 new Covid-19 cases and 33 fatalities on Thursday

  91. 02/09 18:06

    Cyprus air passenger traffic shows signs of recovery after 18 months

  92. 02/09 15:57

    Greece mourns the loss of music composer Mikis Theodorakis at 96

  93. 02/09 14:18

    Cypriot made halloumi cheese finally gets EU protection

  94. 01/09 21:21

    Strong global aviation cargo demand continues in July

  95. 01/09 21:10

    Media report: New luxury hotel earmarked for Larnaca in Cyprus

  96. 01/09 20:52

    Greece records 2,871 new Covid-19 infections and 47 deaths on Wednesday

  97. 01/09 19:45

    Media: Greece already passes 6 million tourists in 2021 despite COVID-19 pandemic

  98. 01/09 19:03

    Greek Finance Minister welcomes successful reissue of 5- and 30-year bonds

  99. 01/09 18:00

    Cyprus tightens coronavirus pandemic restrictions for German travelers

  100. 01/09 14:37

    Greek PM: We do not want a repeat of the uncontrolled migration flows in 2015