Crimean gold – partially decided

Publication date: 16 July 2019
On 16 July 2019, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal rendered an interlocutory judgement in the matter of the Crimean gold. The Allard Pierson Museum has rightly refused to hand over the treasures to the Crimean museums or the Ukrainian State. It is still unclear who should receive the Crimean artefacts. This shall be decided by the Court of Appeal and not the Ukrainian courts.

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The Crimea: Gold and the Secrets of the Black Sea

In the spring of 2014, there was an exhibition on Crimean treasures in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. As Russia had seized Crimea during the exhibition, there were two parties that demanded that the artefacts would be handed over to them afterwards, the State of Ukraine and the Crimean museums. Therefore, the museum withheld the artefacts until it was clear who the owner was.

Judgment of the Amsterdam District Court

In the first instance the Amsterdam District Court had decided that the artefacts were to be handed over to Ukraine pursuant to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property. The Ukrainian court then had to decide on who the owner is.

Judgement of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal

UNESCO Convention is not applicable

The Court of Appeal ruled differently on this than the Amsterdam District Court. The UNESCO Convention is not applicable. This is because the cultural properties were exported lawfully. As Ukraine is not a Member State of the EU, it cannot appeal to EU rules which state that late returns are also unlawful exports. That means that it is not clear yet whether the Crimean gold must go back to Ukraine.

Who must the Crimean gold be handed over to?

The Amsterdam Court of Appeal now has to decide whom the artefacts have to be handed over to. It will do so pursuant to Ukrainian law. In order to do so, the Amsterdam Appeal Court first needs more information from the parties. Although it is clear that the artefacts are owned by the State of Ukraine, the museums in Crimea state that they are entitled to receive them. This is what is stated in the loan agreement and, moreover, they claim a right under operational management. The final judgment will therefore follow later.

Allard Pierson is rightly operational manager

However, another issue has already been definitively resolved. The Allard Pierson Museum rightly refused to hand over the Crimean treasures. After all, it was – and is – unclear to whom it should do this. Therefore, the museum does not have to pay damages, as is claimed by the Crimean museums. If the artefacts have to be handed over to the State of Ukraine, it will have to pay compensation to the museum for the conservation. As the Allard Pierson Museum has not claimed that from the museums in Crimea, they will not be required to pay a fee when the artefacts are handed over to them.

More information

Would you like more information on this case, please contact Mr Paul W.L. Russell, LL.M.  (06 – 53 39 08 83), international art law expert. He is independent and not involved in this case. He has already spoken about this issue before, for example for BNR Nieuwsradio.

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