No Attachment for Iranian Antiquities, Once Again

Posted on: April 24, 2014 by

A group of nine individuals, survivors of a vicious 1997 Hamas terrorist attack in Jerusalem, have once again failed to seize certain Iranian antiquities in US museums in order to satisfy judgment obtained from a D.C. Court.

The 2003 default judgment from the D.C. District Court had held Iran, as sponsor of Hamas at the time, liable for $US 412 million to the survivors for the attack. The plaintiffs, headed by Jenny Rubin (the ‘Rubin Plaintiffs’), then went about seeking to collect on that enormous judgment.

But this was easier said than done…

The plaintiffs first attempted, through trustee process action in the District of Massachusetts, to attach nearly 2000 Iranian antiquities held at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the museums of Harvard University. They failed in this regard, primarily since they were unable to prove that Iran actually owned the antiquities. Interesting legal issues were raised in relation to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, both at trial and on appeal, and I have commented on these in a recent case note on Rubin v. Iran at the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Art Antiquity & Law (October 2013).

The most recent hearing in Illinois was to determine whether the Rubin Plaintiffs could seize Iranian antiquities held at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. While the Federal Court judgment held that the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate Iran’s actual ownership of the antiquities at the Field Museum (despite the existence of Iranian cultural property export laws), the antiquities at the Oriental Institute (including thousands of ancient Persian tablets) had effectively been loaned from Iran. That being said, because the loans were for the purposes of research, they did not satisfy the ‘commercial use’ exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Although there is speculation about an appeal of this decision, one can only wonder upon what legal basis the plaintiffs could possibly succeed. And whether they have the stamina, after facing so many closed doors, to continue.