Museums win bid to keep antiquities

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by Ivan Macquisten
courtesy of IADAA

December 1, 2016 – A federal court has ruled that victims of a terror attack financed by Iran cannot claim Persian artefacts in lieu of compensation against the country.
The eight victims had hoped to take possession of museum collections held by the Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute with a view to selling them to meet the $17.5m judgment against Iran.

However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the collections should not be handed over. Iran does not own two of them, while a third collection, which it does own, was returned some time ago.
A fourth collection, the Persepolis Collection, includes about 30,000 clay tablets and fragments that Iran loaned to the Oriental Institute in 1937 for research, translation and cataloguing, the panel wrote.
Now in the possession of the University of Chicago, it is immune from seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) because it is the property of a foreign state, the court ruled.
The panel conceded there are exceptions to this general rule.

A litigant seeking to satisfy a judgment against a foreign state may take property “used for a commercial activity in the United States,” Judge Diane S. Sykes wrote for the panel, quoting Section 1610(a) of the FSIA.
However, she wrote, Iran has not used the artifacts in the Persepolis Collection for any commercial purpose.

This article was first published in the IADAA newsletter.

To learn more about the IADAA, the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art go to their website.