US judge nixes stolen Nazi art ex­tra­di­tion case

The China Post - - ARTS - BY LARRY NEUMEIS­TER

Poland lacks prob­a­ble cause to ex­tra­dite a Rus­sian art dealer liv­ing in New York on crim­i­nal charges ac­cus­ing him of know­ing that an 18th-cen­tury paint­ing taken from a Pol­ish mu­seum by the Nazis dur­ing World War II was stolen prop­erty when he in­her­ited it from his fa­ther, a judge ruled Mon­day.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Jed Rakoff in Man­hat­tan re­jected the re­quest to ex­tra­dite Alexan­der Khochin­skiy, say­ing the gov­ern­ment of Poland failed to pro­duce any ev­i­dence that Khochin­skiy knew “Girl with a Dove” was stolen when he ac­quired it.

Khochin­skiy, 64, was ar­rested at his Man­hat­tan apart­ment in Fe­bru­ary at the re­quest of Pol­ish author­i­ties, who said he had re­fused to turn over the 1754 oil paint­ing by An­toine Pesne that was stolen from a Pol­ish mu­seum dur­ing the war.

At a spring hear­ing, Khochin­skiy tes­ti­fied that his fa­ther, a for­mer Soviet soldier, came home from the war with the paint­ing and he in­her­ited it when his fa­ther died in 1991.

Rakoff wrote that ev­i­dence sup­ported Khochin­skiy’s claim that he in­her­ited the paint­ing and only learned that Poland was seek­ing it in 2010.

“Undis­puted ev­i­dence showed that Khochin­skiy openly dis­played the paint­ing in his gallery in Moscow for many years and listed it in pub­lished cat­a­logs,” the judge wrote. “This be­hav­ior is in­con­sis­tent with some­one who knows his prop­erty is sought by a for­eign sov­er­eign.”

The judge said Poland lacks a suf­fi­cient ba­sis to hold Khochin­skiy for trial if it can­not es­tab­lish prob­a­ble cause that he com­mit­ted a crime.

The Third Re­ich took “Girl with a Dove” in 1943 from the Na­tional Mu­seum in Poz­nan, Poland, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers. At the end of the war, the Red Army re­cov­ered the paint­ing and took it to a repos­i­tory in the Soviet Union, the com­plaint said.

In 2010, Khochin­skiy con­tacted the Pol­ish Em­bassy in Moscow, say­ing he had dis­cov­ered that the paint­ing was on the list of miss­ing art ob­jects, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers filed by the U.S. gov­ern­ment on Poland’s be­half.

Pol­ish of­fi­cials, af­ter au­then­ti­cat­ing the paint­ing at Khochin­skiy’s gallery in Moscow, de­manded that Khochin­skiy re­turn it with­out com­pen­sa­tion in 2011. Af­ter not hear­ing back from him, Rus­sian author­i­ties agreed to try to seize the paint­ing. But when they went to his gallery, it was gone.

Khochin­skiy, who has been free on bail, ad­mit­ted he still has the paint­ing stored at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion.

Betsy Feuer­stein, a spokes­woman for a U.S. gov­ern­ment at­tor­ney who ar­gued the case, de­clined com­ment.

Christo­pher A. Flood, an at­tor­ney for Khochin­skiy, said in an email: “We are ex­tremely happy with this re­sult. We have al­ways firmly be­lieved that this mat­ter is not ap­pro­pri­ately the sub­ject of a crim­i­nal ex­tra­di­tion. Now that it is re­solved, Mr. Khochin­skiy looks for­ward to re­sum­ing nor­mal life with his fam­ily.”

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