Austrian court overturns Czech art seizure ruling

Austrian court overturns earlier decision on the Diag Human case allowing seizure of valuable Czech works of art on loan in the country

This work by Czech painter Emil Filla has already been confiscated in Vienna foto: © Moravská galerie v BrněČeská pozice

This work by Czech painter Emil Filla has already been confiscated in Vienna

An Austrian court has overturned an earlier decision and revoked a court order allowing the seizure of valuable Czech art works in the country, the Czech Ministry of Health announced on Friday.

The original court decision at the end of May allowed bailiffs to seize two paintings, one by avant garde Czech master Emil Filla and one by Filla’s contemporary Vincenc Beneš, together with a bronze statue by Otto Gutfreund.

The move targeting works on loan from the Czech National Gallery and Moravian Gallery sparked fears that similar steps regarding Czech assets across the continent could be taken. The Czech Ministry of Culture recalled art works from abroad, blocked new loans and also put a ban on valuable musical instruments owned by the state being loaned out to musicians for foreign concerts.

The Austrian court was responding to a call from the Czech-Swiss businessman Josef Šťáva that the Czech state honor a 2008 arbitration ruling and pay him Kč 8.9 billion and interest for damages when the Czech Ministry of Health walked out of a blood plasma joint venture business deal involving his company, Diag Human.

Diag afterwards said it had won a similar court ruling in Paris. On the back of these decisions, Šťáva cashed in his claim against the Czech state by selling it and his blood plasma company to an unidentified consortium of international investors.

Seizure immunity

Now a Vienna court has rescinded the original distraint order on the grounds that a United Nations convention on state jurisdiction says that valuable cultural property not destined for sale is legally immune from distraint action, Health Ministry spokesman Vlastimil Sršeň said in a news release.

The Czech Republic says that the 2008 arbitration ruling and damages are not valid since it has lodged an appeal against them.