Sunday, August 18, 2013

Stakes Raised in Peruvian Artifacts Forfeiture Case: Claimant Says Objects Not Peruvian as Prosecutors Make New Assertions in Second Forfeiture Complaint


Miami, Florida.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida on July 18 filed a second complaint to forfeit Peruvian cultural property. The complaint alleges that Jean Combe Fritz, a citizen of Peru, illegally imported additional heritage objects when he arrived at Miami International Airport in Florida in August 2010. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized the items.

The federal district court has consolidated this new case of U.S. v. Three Artifacts Constituting Cultural Property of Peru with the case of U.S. v. Twenty-Nine Pre-Columbian and Colonial Artifacts from Peru, filed in May. The three artifacts described in the latest complaint consist of two amulets and a tunic.

The prosecution's newest pleading follows on the heels of Combe Fritz's court notice claiming lawful title to the original 29 artifacts. In answer to the government's initial complaint, he denies "that the CPIA [Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act] applies, that the items are Pre-Columbian or Colonial, and that Peru is the source country." In the alternative, the claimant argues that "it is not possible to determine whether or not Peru is the source country." Meanwhile, a third affirmative defense asserts that "[t]he articles seized are not Peruvian as their production predates the establishment of Peru as a nation."

A fourth affirmative defense raised by the claimant argues that the objects are not ones of "cultural significance" that can be forfeited as required by the terms of the CPIA. And a fifth affirmative defense contends that CBP failed to provide an administrative process that would have allowed the claimant to recover the property. Indeed, a final affirmative defense says that Combe Fritz "has valid title to the items and is a bona fide purchaser for value...."

The prosecutors' latest complaint targeting the three artifacts argues that the objects can be seized, not under the terms of the CPIA, but pursuant to 19 U .S.C. § 1595a(c)(1 )(A), which states that "[m]erchandise which is introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law . . . shall be seized and forfeited if it ... is stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported or introduced."

The prosecution alleges, "The Defendant in rem is merchandise that has been introduced into the United States contrary to law, as it constitutes property unlawfully exported from Peru and stolen, smuggled or clandestinely imported or introduced into the United States." They cite Law 28296 as legal authority, Peru's patrimony law, but make no mention of any specific U.S. criminal law that would have been violated.

Prosecutors, nevertheless, outline additional facts in their case. They allege, among other details, that
Combe-Fritz initially told the officers that he had come to Miami for a vacation and to do some shopping for his wife and child.  He said that he had purchased the artifacts for $500 from the Inca market in Lima, and that he intended to send them to his aunt in San Francisco. 

On further questioning by Customs officers, however, Combe admitted that he was bringing the artifacts in for three persons whose names were on a list given to him by his father, who had also paid for his ticket.
Those named include a doctor in New York City; a man located in Westchester County, NY; and a textile conservation company in New Mexico.

Photo courtesy naomistern.

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