August 31, 2017

Updates on Turkey’s lawsuit over the multimillion-dollar, 5,000-year-old antiquity known as the Guennol Stargazer.

On August 28, 2017 attorneys for Michael Steinhardt and Christie's filed a lengthy, contentious Motion to Dismiss in the US District Court (SD/NY) related to CIV. ACT. NO. 17-cv-3086 (AJN), Turkey’s lawsuit over the multimillion-dollar, 5,000-year-old antiquity known as the Guennol Stargazer

Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York
The "motion to dismiss" in this case seeks a court order to dismiss the plaintiff's claim on the statutory grounds that such a claim was untimely brought.

Under New York law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations or application of the laches doctrine, one cannot obtain title from a thief unless the present-day possessor's title can be traced to someone with whom the original owner voluntarily entrusted the art.  As a clear title is not possible in the case of the Guennol Stargazer, it will be up to Steinhardt and Christie's attorney to make a case on the laches defense, where it is clear that the plaintiff, in this case Turkey, unreasonably delayed in initiating an action and a defendant(s) are unfairly prejudiced by the delay.

The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to safeguard the interests of good faith purchasers, in this case of lost/stolen art, by weighing in the balance of competing interest, the owner's diligence in pursuing their claim.   

While delay in pursuing a claim for the Stargazer is generally considered in the context of laches under New York law, it has long been the law of this state that a property owner, having discovered the location of its lost property, cannot unreasonably delay making demand upon the person in possession of that property.

Attorneys for the defendants believe that the repatriation lawsuit must fail as there is evidence that Turkey knew about the Stargazer’s location for longer than three years before it sued, providing the court with a graphic charting that shows when the object first became publicized, implying Turkey's claim, twenty years after its first public announcement, is unreasonable.

The auction home points out that given that the idol’s arrival in the US, it has been referenced on numerous occasions  in museum catalogues and educational publications.