Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Another Dubious Seizure of an Artifact Long on Display
NY Prosecutors Vance and Bogdanos have seized a fragment of a relief said to be from Persepolis from a London dealer who set up at a New York City Art Fair. The relief in question had been put on display at a Canadian museum back in the 1950’s. The seizure raises serious legal questions about whether the Iranian statute used as the basis for the seizure really vests title of the artifact in Iran, whether at the time such artifacts were given to excavators so they may not, in fact, be “stolen,” and whether laches would apply to defeat such a stale claim. There is also the obvious question whether Vance and Bogdanos should be using New York taxpayer’s money to take private property to award it to the Islamic Republic of Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism whose top officials at times have threatened to bulldoze pre-Islamic sites like Persepolis and the tomb of Cyrus the Great. But the real question is whether the dealer will fight the seizure, particularly given the costs and potential criminal liability involved.