Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Federal Attorneys and Sotheby's Agree to Keep Designated Information Confidential in U.S. v. A 10th Century Cambodian Sandstone Sculpture

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Attorneys for both Sotheby's and the United States have signed a stipulation dated June 29 to keep designated information confidential.  Published on July 2 in the forfeiture case of United States Of America v. A 10th Century Cambodian Sandstone Sculpture, Currently Located at Sotheby's, the stipulation says that relevant documents can be kept secret in pleadings and hearings if the information reveals Sotheby's:
  • potential, current, or past clients,
  • any consignment agreements or sales,
  • proprietary aspects of the auction house's compliance program, and/or
  • its sales strategies.
The stipulation allows Sotheby's to mark such information "CONFIDENTIAL," and the government may challenge the designation.

Specific documents that are to be kept confidential include a "Family Agreement" and a "Sales Agreement for Works of Art" supplied by Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, the reported consignor of the Cambodian sculpture to Sotheby's.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the United States may request that Sotheby's produce non-confidential documents with confidential information redacted.  At the conclusion of the case, secret information shall be returned or destroyed according to the terms of the stipulation.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York petitioned a federal district court in April to seize and forfeit the temple statue, alleging that it was "illicitly removed from the Prasat Chen Temple at the historic and archeological site of Koh Ker, Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia."  Sotheby's filed a motion to dismiss the claim in June.  A hearing on the motion is currently scheduled for September 27.

Given that the forfeiture case is a public matter launched by federal officials and not a lawsuit between private parties; given that the case involves alleged violations of the federal customs law rather than violations of terms of a private contract; and given that compliance methods with respect to public laws on import and/or penal matters are at issue in the case as opposed to trade secrets, the stipulation will perhaps be the subject of debate by observers of the case.

CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com
(c) Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC