In the Spiegel Online International article "Art Investigation: 'Empathy Alone Doesn't Help Us Any Further", Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback answers Spiegel's questions about the legality and morality of confiscating the art collection of Cornelius Gurlitt in 2012.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Bausback, has the public prosecutor's office in the city of Augsburg consistently conducted itself in an absolutely correct manner in the case of Munich art collector Cornelius Gurlitt?
Bausback: The confiscation was based on a court order. As a minister, I am in no position to comment on this. But there is another level that concerns our responsibility to come to terms with the crimes committed under the Nazi reign of terror, and this is important for the image of Bavaria and Germany around the world. Too much time has elapsed on this level since the paintings were confiscated in 2012 without us making sufficient progress in clearing up the provenance of many of these works. There is no doubt that everyone involved on the federal and state level should have tackled this challenge with more urgency and resources right from the start.
Questions about charges and Cornelius Gurlitt's legal representation are addressed:
SPIEGEL: What criminal allegations constitute the basis for the confiscation?Will this case reconcile the past?
Bausback: Tax-related allegations in connection with art objects. The pictures and other things were confiscated as evidence.
SPIEGEL: Actually it had to do with the sale of a single painting. Did that mean that the authorities had to go ahead and cart off the entire art trove that Gurlitt had in his apartment?
Bausback: To protect tax confidentiality and Mr. Gurlitt's rights -- and because this is an ongoing investigation -- I don't want to make any public statements about the details of this case. As a general rule, every defendant in a criminal case has recourse to legal remedies to redress confiscations.
SPIEGEL: Gurlitt thinks that he will get the pictures back without resorting to such measures. Are you glad that he still hasn't hired a lawyer?
Bausback: He has every right to decide whether he wants to be represented by an attorney and how he defends himself.
SPIEGEL: What if he refuses to return looted art -- or paintings that were confiscated according to laws enacted under Nazi Germany -- to the heirs of the former victims? Even if these individuals could still be deemed the owners of the artwork, their civil claims to recover their property expired after 30 years. They lapsed a long time ago.
Bausback: It would be difficult for me to accept that our response to the restitution claims of such owners is that their demands are subject to the statute of limitations. I have therefore instructed my ministry to draw up draft legislation that we soon intend to put forward for debate. This legislation would prevent someone who acquired something in bad faith -- in other words, who knew that the pictures or other objects that he or she had purchased or inherited were sold under pressure by their owners -- from invoking the limitation period for claims under civil law.