Russia » Politics
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Russia pulled into $1 billion art dispute with Switzerland

Bankrupt Swiss company Noga arrested a priceless art collection of the Russian museum

The Swiss police and customs arrested the collection of 54 paintings from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The unique collection of paintings made by French artists evaluated at the total sum of one billion dollars was arrested on the inquiry from the company Noga, Switzerland. Pushkin Museum in Moscow

The art show entitled “French Paintings from the Collection of the Pushkin Museum” was held in the art gallery of Pierre Gianadda Foundation in Switzerland from June 17 to November 13 of the current year. The exhibition was closed on Wednesday morning, but the Swiss police arrested the Russian trucks with the paintings on their way to another country. 

The arrest of the art collection of the Pushkin Museum was approved by the legal authorities of the town of Martigny, Switzerland, Valais Canton, where the exposition was originally held. “The exposition was delivered to Switzerland under security guarantees provided by the authorities of Valais, where the art show was opened,” a statement from the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs said.

Specialists of the museum said that some paintings could be damaged as a result of the incident. “They can be damaged because of the changing temperatures in the trucks. The police withdrew keys from the truck drivers, which deprived them of a possibility to control the air conditioning system in the vehicles. The conditioning system was activated later, but several trucks arrested in Basel and Geneva were parked in a warm garage,” an expert of the Moscow-based Pushkin Museum said.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Bern, Igor Petrov, said that the decision regarding the arrest of the art collection of the Russian museum was canceled yesterday owing to the efforts taken by the federal council of the Swiss government. However, the company Noga filed another lawsuit at the time, when the Russian trucks were transporting the paintings of French artists towards the borders of Switzerland. As a result, the paintings were arrested repeatedly.

”Noga has absolutely no chances to win the case vs. Russia,” lawyer Igor Zenkin said in an interview with Pravda.Ru. Mr. Zenkin has defended Russia's interests before, when Noga was trying to obtain Russian airplanes, which had been brought to the air show in Le Bourget. “There are certain kinds of state property, which are not subject to arrest. Paintings are included in this category of property,” the legal expert said.

”The firm has an act of execution, which implies that it can arrest the state property of Russia. However, the firm needs to realize that certain kinds of property can not be arrested. For some reason, they have been trying to arrest exactly this kind of property. Apparently, they have quite bad legal experts,” Igor Zenkin concluded.

The chairman of the Bureau of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Alexander Shokhin, believes that Russian officials should not let Noga's director push them around. Russian politicians believe that the paintings, which represent the priceless heritage of world culture, cannot be involved in the unprincipled game of the bankrupt Swiss businessman.

Russian Finance Minister, Aleksey Kudrin, is certain that the collection of paintings arrested in Switzerland in connection with the lawsuit filed by the company Noga will be eventually returned to Russian undamaged.

The history of the conflict between the Swiss company Noga and the Russian government started in the beginning of the 1990s. The government of Russia concluded several contracts with Noga in 1991-1992 in the sum of about $1.4 billion. The company undertook to ship foodstuffs and fertilizers to Russia in return to oil deliveries. The execution of the contractual obligations laid the foundation of the ongoing dispute between the two sides.

According to the contract, Russia guaranteed its execution with property. The Russian government terminated the contract in 1993, which made Noga sue the government and claim the compensation of about $680 million.

In 1994 Noga filed a lawsuit at the Stockholm Arbitration Court. The court confirmed in February of 1997 that Russia's debt to the Swiss firm made up some 23 million. However, Noga was asking for the $1.5 billion compensation.

Noga arrested the French accounts of the Russian Central Bank and the Russian sailboat Sedov in July of 2000. However, a Russian court ordered to release the vessel and pay its owner, the Murmansk State Technical University, the compensation of 500,000 franks.

Noga attempted to arrest Russian aircrafts Su-30MK and MiG-AT at the air show in Le Bourget in June of 2001. Russia has not participating in the air show for several years already after that incident. The accounts were subsequently unblocked and the arrest of the property was found illegal.

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