ATHENS: Greece’s culture minister has hailed a US court ruling over a disputed ancient horse figurine as a major victory that may help Athens and others fighting to reclaim antiquities.

Lina Mendoni said Tuesday’s ruling by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals had set a precedent and recognised countries’ sovereign right to call for the return of artefacts. However the court has left unresolved the fundamental issue of who owns the horse.

The Greek government wrote to Sotheby’s auction house in 2018 asking it to stop a sale of the 8th century BC statue, saying it was Greek national property, according to the text of the appeals court ruling.

Later that year, Sotheby’s and descendants of art collectors Howard and Saretta Barnet took the unusual step of suing the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports in the US courts, seeking a declaration that the family owned the horse and that Sotheby’s could sell it.

A year later, a US judge rejected Greece’s effort to dismiss that lawsuit. But the appeal court ruled on Tuesday that Greece had been pursuing its sovereign rights, not commercial interests, when making the claim. So under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Greece could not face such a lawsuit.

The appeals court did not rule on who owned the statue.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2020