Chinese bidder "won't pay" for looted China bronzes

Mon Mar 2, 2009 10:12am EST
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese art collector identified himself on Monday as the winning bidder in last week's Paris auction for two sculptures looted from Beijing in the 1800s but said that, as a patriot, he had no intention of paying.

Christie's, which had triggered Chinese anger by holding the sale, would not say what action it would take against the bidder, only that the bronze sculptures of the heads of a rat and a rabbit would not be released until it had been paid.

Cai Mingchao, a collector and adviser to a private foundation in China that seeks to retrieve looted treasures, said he successfully bid for the items which sold for 15 million euros ($20 million) each at an auction for the art collection of late designer Yves Saint Laurent.

But Cai said the relics should not have been put up for sale as they had been stolen from Beijing's Summer Palace, which was razed in 1860 by French and British forces.

"I think any Chinese person would have stood up at that moment. It was just that the opportunity came to me. I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities," said Cai, who in 2006 paid more than HK$100 million ($13 million) for a gold Buddha statue at an auction in Hong Kong.

A spokeswoman for Christie's in Hong Kong said lots were not released until the balance of payment had been received but the auction house declined to comment on any action it might take.

"We are aware of today's news reports," a London-based spokesperson said, in emailed comments.

"As a matter of policy, we do not comment on the identity of our consignors or buyers, nor do we comment or speculate on the next steps that we might take in this instance."   Continued...

<p>Christie's auctions a bronze rabbit head made for the Zodiac fountain of the Emperor Qianlong's Summer Palace in China from the private art collection of late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent at the Grand Palais Museum in Paris February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau</p>