A couple in Colorado is suing the government of Switzerland for seizing 18 artifacts of Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and other origins they had shipped to their art dealer in Geneva to sell. In their lawsuit, filed in Colorado’s U.S. District Court on Wednesday, Lynda and William Beierwaltes are seeking $24 million in damages. According to the lawsuit, their objects were seized along with 93 other items amid a customs investigation into seven specific antiquities, but Swiss authorities failed to provide “any specific information linking the Beierwaltes Property to any Swiss customs violation or other offense.” The lawsuit alleges that Swiss authorities plan to restitute the seized works, but have not provided any evidence of problematic provenance.
The antiquities in question include a large, Greek terracotta statue of a standing figure; a bronze figure of Osiris from Egypt; a Mesopotamian seated divinity figure; and a full floor mosaic from a Roman villa. The Beierwaltes’ antiquities collection rose to prominence in the 1990s, but in recent years financial troubles forced them to sell a large property outside of Denver and objects from their collection. They had shipped the 18 pieces at the center of the lawsuit to Switzerland to be sold by antiquities dealer Phoenix Ancient Art, which has locations in Geneva and New York City.
According to the lawsuit, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Culture and Federal Customs Administration “have failed to assert any proper legal basis for the seizure of the Beierwaltes property pursuant to international or Swiss law.” The couple’s claim also states that they “purchased each object in reliance on express or implied representations from reputable dealers and auction houses in the absence of any thefts reported to publicly available databases of stolen art, such as the Art Loss Register.”
Last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art forfeited a marble sculpture of a bull’s head owned by the Beierwaltes after it was found to have been looted during Lebanon’s civil war.