Dutch col­lec­tor tells court he 'no longer owns Chi­nese mummy'

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Afight over own­er­ship of a 1,000-year-old mum­mi­fied monk opened in a Dutch court on Fri­day, with an art col­lec­tor say­ing he no longer pos­sessed the con­tro­ver­sial statue said to con­tain the mummy. The small eastern Chi­nese vil­lage of Yangchun has ac­cused Dutch col­lec­tor Os­car van Overeem of hav­ing bought the stolen Bud­dha statue con­tain­ing the re­mains of a monk in Hong Kong in 1996. But Van Overeem told the Am­s­ter­dam District Court the statue was now in the "pos­ses­sion of a busi­ness­man who wants to re­main anony­mous" af­ter an art swop in 2015.

He de­clined to name the busi­ness­man. "It was a ver­bal deal," lawyer Tu­ran Teke told the judge, adding his client only knew the busi­ness­man's "in­ter­na­tional English name" with­out giv­ing fur­ther de­tails. The hu­man-sized Bud­dha statue sit­ting in a lo­tus po­si­tion, called the "Zhang­gong Pa­tri­arch", dis­ap­peared from a tem­ple in Yangchun in late 1995 af­ter be­ing wor­shipped there for cen­turies.

Miss­ing for two decades, the Bud­dha statue resur­faced when vil­lagers in 2015 rec­og­nized it as part of a dis­play at the "Mummy World Ex­hi­bi­tion" at Bu­dapest's Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum. The statue was sub­se­quently with­drawn. A scan of the statue re­vealed a skele­ton in­side-said to be that of the monk who lived nearly a mil­len­nium ago dur­ing China's Song dy­nasty. The vil­lagers "with­out a doubt rec­og­nized the statue when they saw it," their lawyer Jan Holthuis told the court. The rel­a­tives of the monk-whom Holthuis says have writ­ten proof of their fam­ily ties-are ask­ing the court to rule that they are en­ti­tled to have their an­ces­tor re­turned to his right­ful place.

Holthuis is us­ing an ar­gu­ment un­der Dutch law that says "a per­son is not al­lowed to have a known body in their pos­ses­sion" to get the statue back. He also pre­sented a slew of other ar­gu­ments in­tend­ing to show that the statute bought by Van Overeem is in­deed the one stolen from the tem­ple. Af­ter three hours of tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sions, pre­sid­ing judge Jeroen Thomas asked both par­ties to sub­mit new writ­ten state­ments.

The judge will now also de­cide whether Van Overeem should dis­close the name of the anony­mous busi­ness­man, Holthuis told AFP af­ter the hear­ing. "This will take a few months," he added. The case is be­ing closely watched as it could mark one of the first suc­cess­ful re­trievals of Chi­nese relics in court, the state-run Chi­nese news­pa­per Global Times re­ported on Tues­day. Pre­vi­ously sim­i­lar re­trievals have been done through diplo­matic chan­nels, the pa­per said. Bei­jing in re­cent years has ve­he­mently protested the sale of arte­facts it says were stolen, par­tic­u­larly in the 19th cen­tury when Euro­pean pow­ers be­gan en­croach­ing on Chi­nese ter­ri­tory. — AFP

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