German recluse Gurlitt challenges art seizure

Wed Feb 19, 2014 8:27am EST
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By Monica Raymunt

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German recluse whose billion-dollar art hoard was confiscated on suspicion that it contained works looted by the Nazis has filed a first formal complaint against the seizure, his lawyers said on Wednesday.

The 45-page complaint was filed at the Augsburg court in southern Germany which issued the original search order for Cornelius Gurlitt's flat. The complaint challenges the prosecutor's justification for seizing the 81-year-old's 1,407 art works on suspicion of tax evasion.

"Gurlitt and his defense team are well aware of the moral dimensions of this case," said Tido Park, one of Gurlitt's lawyers, in a statement. "However, a criminal proceeding is not the right place for issues of morality."

Gurlitt, whose father took orders from Adolf Hitler to buy and sell so-called 'degenerate art' to fund Nazi activities, aroused suspicion in 2010 when German customs officials stopped him on a train from Switzerland carrying a large sum of cash.

When authorities raided his apartment in February 2012 on suspicion of tax evasion, they found a collection of Modernist and Renaissance masterpieces valued by media reports at an estimated 1 billion euros.

In their complaint, filed on February 14, Gurlitt's lawyers said the seizure of the art works had violated the law. Of the 1,407 artworks seized, authorities are still holding 1,280 works suspected of being stolen or extorted by the Nazis.

"In the context of immense public interest and political debates, we have concerns about the legality of these proceedings," said Derek Setz, another lawyer for Gurlitt.


The name plate on the house of art collector Cornelius Gurlitt is pictured in Salzburg November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler