Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Claimants Deny Knowledge," Affirmative Defenses Raised in Sotheby's Cambodian Sculpture Case

"Claimants deny knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations set forth in ... the Verified Complaint." That is the refrain found in 23 paragraphs of answers filed by Sotheby's and Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa in the case of United States of America v. A 10th Century Cambodian Sandstone Sculpture.

In reply to the government's amended forfeiture complaint--first proposed in November 2012 and filed with the Manhattan federal district court in April 2013--the claimants' May 6 pleading denies knowledge that the Duryodhana statute was stolen. The claimants say that Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa and her husband purchased the statue "in good faith and for a fair price" in 1975, explaining
Sotheby's arranged importation of the Statue from Belgium to the United States and that prior to doing so, Sotheby's obtained documented provenance (in the form of a 1975 invoice from an auction house that speaks for itself and to whose contents Claimants refer the Court) establishing that the Statue had been sold in London in 1975, a time when Cambodia had enacted no clear and unambiguous laws declaring itself the owner of all antiquities in Cambodia.
U.S. authorities seek title to the Duryodhana sculpture in order to repatriate it to Cambodia. Prosecutors allege that the cultural object is from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker, and that it's feet remain in Cambodia. Despite efforts by the claimants to dismiss the case, the court refused their request on March 29.

Several affirmative defenses are raised in the claimants' latest pleading. They include the defenses of failure to state a claim, an innocent owner defense, laches and a second time-based defense, estoppel, Fifth Amendment due process, desuetude (lapse of a law because of lack of enforcement), and adverse possession. Other affirmative defenses raised seek to attack the French Colonial decrees on which the prosecution's current amended complaint relies. The claimants claim that the relevant colonial laws in effect in Cambodia did not provide fair notice of Cambodia's ownership to the statue, were "not drafted with sufficient clarity to survive translation into terms understandable by and binding upon American citizens," are not laws that have not been enforced, and never vested ownership of the statue in Cambodia.

Hat tip: Gary Nurkin

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Text copyrighted 2010-2013 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT INFORMATION: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com