Chinese villagers to claim back stolen mummy Buddha in Dutch court

Updated 2017-07-13 09:27:42 Xinhua
A CT scan shows a body, whose internal organs were removed, concealed in an ancient Chinese statue of a Buddha.

A CT scan shows a body, whose internal organs were removed, concealed in an ancient Chinese statue of a Buddha.

Chinese villagers who want to get back their stolen Buddha statue with in it a mummified body of an 11th-century monk will face the Dutch collector in the court of Amsterdam on Friday afternoon.

After going through documents filed by both parties, Xinhua presents here the key issues on admissibility, procedures and merits that might be discussed at the first public hearing of this case.

CAN CHINESE VILLAGE COMMITTEE STAND AT DUTCH COURT?

Villagers from two villages in China's southeastern province of Fujian had their village committees to file the claim that the mummified body, or "Master Zhang Gong" as called and worshipped during the past centuries, should be returned and placed back in their village temple.

In his answer to the claims, Oscar van Overeem, an Amsterdam-based architect and experienced art collector, argued that a "village committee is not to be referred to as a natural person or legal person" under the Dutch Code of Civil Procedure and "the claimants should be declared inadmissible in their claims."

The villagers then filed additional documents to explain that under the Chinese law, a village committee, as a special legal person, is entitled to attend litigation as a party based on legal provisions or authorizations from villagers. In practice, there are a great number of cases in which villagers' committees are claimants or defendants in lawsuits.

"The judge in the Netherlands has the responsibility to first check whether the parties have legal representation power. It is possible that they do not fully understand the legal personalities of village committees under the Chinese Law. I will give more information about this at the hearing," Dutch lawyer Jan Holthuis, who represents the Chinese villagers in Dutch court proceedings, told Xinhua.

PRESUMPTION OF FRAUD?

The defendant said that with a "swap agreement" reached on Nov. 29, 2015, Van Overeem has exchanged the statue against several Buddhist art objects from the private collection of a third party and committed to the third party to not disclose his identity.

A letter signed by his insurer was submitted as proof. "The Song dynasty mummy is insured by us since the commencing date of the first policy and at the most recent time for a sum of 950,000 euro. However, this object is at the moment no longer insured by us, this in connection with an exchange-swap of the object as reported by you [Van Overeem] to us," it stated.

The villagers ask the court to demand the Dutch collector disclose the "exchange agreement" and the identity of the "third party". For them, the exchange agreement is contrary to common decency and public order and therefore is void.

They also filed emails sent by the Dutch collector, reading "I can 'just' act, discuss and make decisions on behalf of him [the third party]."

"It is a 'presumption of fraud', or an 'action pauliana'. By making the statue away, the defendant causes in our view a presumption of a fraudulent act, namely preventing the enforcement of a claim of the villagers to return Zhang Gong, if the court would so decide," commented Holthuis.

"The defendant also said this third party is fully aware of the situation, which means, this third party can never be in good faith," he added.

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