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US court dismisses Guelph Treasure lawsuit

Plus: antiquities trafficking investigation extends to German dealers and museums | dealer Johann König accused of sexual misconduct | Philadelphia Museum of Art’s unionised staff file unfair labour charges

2 September 2022

A US court has thrown out a lawsuit from 2015 against the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) over the Guelph Treasure, a trove of 82 medieval devotional objects worth more than €200m. The heirs of four Jewish art dealers claimed in the suit that the sale of the collection in 1935 had been forced by the Nazis. On Tuesday (30 August), the US District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the SPK could not be prosecuted in the United States. Hermann Parzinger, the president of the SPK, said in a statement to the Associated Press that his organisation has ‘long maintained that this lawsuit lacked merit, as the Guelph Treasure’s sale in 1935 was not a forced sale due to Nazi persecution.’ Nicolas O’Donnell, the attorney for the heirs, told Artnet News that ‘we are reviewing the decision and options to appeal.’

The Art Newspaper reports that the antiquities trafficking investigation sparked by the gold coffin of Nedjemankh, which was acquired by the Met and subsequently found to have been smuggled out of Egypt illegally, is now extending to dealers and museums in Germany. Sources close to the investigation say that the judge in Paris in charge of the investigation has issued European arrest warrants for four Hamburg-based dealers: Roben Dib (now in detention in Paris), Serop Simonian and two of Simonian’s children. A spokesman for the Hamburg prosecutor told the Art Newspaper that the warrant for Serop Simonian is still pending, while those for his children have been refused as they will be prosecuted in Germany.

The German dealer Johann König, who owns galleries in Berlin, Vienna and Seoul, has been accused of sexual misconduct by 10 women, according to a report published in Die Zeit on Wednesday (31 August). The allegations against König, which include inappropriate touching, unwanted sexual comments and forcible kissing, date back several years; according to the investigation by Die Zeit, they have not been made public until now because of the women’s fear of retaliation. In a statement to Artnews, König said: ‘These allegations are baseless and untrue. I am already being represented by a lawyer in this matter and all legal steps are being examined to prevent the dissemination of these false facts.’

Unionised workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) have filed unfair labour charges against the museum to the National Labor Relations Board and, on Tuesday, authorised their union leadership to call a strike. Artnews reports the staff claim that the PMA has engaged in union-busting activities and made contract negotiations drag on since October 2020 – both charges the museum denies.

 

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