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Hungary's motion to dismiss a lawsuit over art pieces dismissed by America's judge

Although Hungarian court ruled in favor of Hungarian government and its right to keep the art pieces, US District Court in Washington rejected Hungary's motion to dismiss a lawsuit on the grounds of the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

A United States District Court in Washington has rejected Hungary’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it and its museums and a university for artworks claimed by the heirs of the Jewish banker and renowned collector Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, reports The New York Times.

For more than two decades Herzog’s heirs have been petitioning the Hungarian government to return more than $100 million worth of art, most of which has been hanging in Hungarian museums, where it was left for safekeeping during World War II or placed after being stolen by the Nazis and later returned to Hungary. Baron Herzog died in 1934.

Years of requests have been rebuffed and in July 2010 the Herzog family filed a lawsuit asking not only for the return of more than 40 artworks including paintings, sculptures and other works by El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zubarán, van Dyck, Velázquez and Monet, but also asking the Hungarian government for an accounting of all art from the Herzog family in its possession.

Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ruled late Thursday against Hungary’s argument that its state-owned museums and university are immune from jurisdiction of the United States courts under the United States Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. She dismissed the heirs’ claims on 11 works, citing a Hungarian court’s ruling that the government could keep them.

The ruling will now require Hungary to open government and museum records, forcing its Holocaust-era actions and its inventory of looted artworks to be scrutinized.

Michael Shuster, the Herzog family’s lawyer, said in a statement, “We look forward to proceeding with discovery of the Hungarian government’s shameful conduct in taking and refusing to return the family’s artworks.’’