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9 July 2015 Lawyer Olaf Ossmann representing the heirs of Richard Semmel sends open letter to the Dutch Minister of Culture

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Lawyer Olaf Ossmann representing the heirs of Richard Semmel sends open letter to the Dutch Minister of Culture

He seeks a revision of the regulations by which the Dutch Restitutions Committee makes its decisions and asks for an assurance of an independent assessment of the Semmel claim.


On 25 April 2013 the Dutch Restitutions Committee handed down a binding decision that a 'Madonna and Child with Wild Roses' painting by Jan van Scorel now in the Centraal Museum Utrecht would not be returned to the heirs of Richard Semmel, its rightful owner, despite the Committee finding that the sale of the painting by Semmel was involuntary. Utilitisng new regulations, the Committee found that the interest of the Museum in keeping the painting it acquired in 1958 should outweight the rights of the heirs to its restitution. No compensation was offered.

The heirs subsequently took the case to the Court of Utrecht which ruled in January 2015 that the decision was invalid and that the procedures of the Committee did not provide equality for both parties. Prior to the court's ruling, the Dutch Culture Minister Mrs Bussemaker suggested to the claimants that they seek alternative dispute resolution. However, the museum refused and suggested instead that they return to the Restitutions Committee for another decision, saying they had no reason to question its procedures.
Mr Ossmann writes that the heirs' second attempt to find a new impartial ruling was through Parliament which proposed to the Minister that an ad hoc committe be set up for the purpose. The Minister asked the Chair of the Restitutions Committee to advise and he said that wa unnecessary and that the Restittuions Committee itself could re-hear the case. Despite the court having specifically ruled that the procecures and criteria of the Committee explicitly favoured the current possessor of a claimed painting, the Minister nonetheless accepted the Chair's proposal, which further ruptured the required independence between government and the Committee.
Mr Ossmann's open letter calls upon the Minister to revise the regulations which the court criticised as not providing impartial justice. He writes that it is clear that museums will not willingly give up artworks even when there is a valid claim for them.and the Committee's regulations make that the most likely outcome of any claim. Mr Ossmann further calls upon the Minister to say how the Committee could provide a different ruling given that the criteria have not changed, and seeks the provision of a fair and speedy solution for the claimants by the establishment of an ad-hoc committee which can guarantee a just, independent and impartial decision..   

To read the letter, click here.

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