DENVER (CN) – A Colorado couple sued the Swiss government in federal court Wednesday for seizing 18 Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiques sent to Geneva in February to be sold by their art dealer.
Lynda and William Beierwaltes filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Colorado, in hopes of reclaiming profits from the artifacts estimated to be worth $8 million. Through the 1990s, the Beierwaltes made a name for themselves curating what became “considered one of, if not, the finest private collections of antiquities in the United States.”
The seized property includes a bronze Greek figure depicting an attacking lion, a Mesopotamian composite seated divinity, a bronze figure of an Egyptian Osiris and two Greek phalluses.
When faced with financial difficulties, the couple was forced to sell their property and declare bankruptcy.
The city of Loveland purchased the couple’s 188-acres property for $2.5 million in 2015. Located 50 miles north of Denver, Loveland’s population of 76,000 people includes countless art lovers.
Rare antiques specialist Phoenix Ancient Art S.A., which has galleries in New York and Geneva, was entrusted with selling the contents of the home.
According to the lawsuit, neither the Office of Culture of the Swiss Confederation nor the Federal Customs Administration have asserted “any proper legal basis for the seizure of the Beierwaltes property pursuant to international or Swiss law.”
Swiss customs agents found the Beierwaltes’ property while investigating seven separate antiques that were stored in the same warehouse. All together, 111 items were seized.
In 2017, the Beierwaltes filed a complaint in federal court in New York after the Met forfeited their 2,300-year-old marble sculpture of a bull’s head to the Republic of Lebanon. Although the couple claimed to have paid more than $1 million for the sculpture, the New York Times reported they dropped the lawsuit when they learned it was looted during the country’s civil war.
According to the Swiss complaint, “no individual or foreign sovereign, and no other third party, has asserted any claim of ownership whatsoever over the Beierwaltes Property.”
The Beierwaltes assert they vetted all of their items and “purchased each object in reliance on express or implied representations from reputable dealers and auction houses in the absence of any thefts reported to publicly available databases of stolen art, such as the Art Loss Register.”
Unless they are able to sell the artifacts, the couple will remain $1.8 million in debt to Colorado-based creditor Bill Putman.
Calculating in attorneys’ fees and statutory interest, the Beierwaltes seek an award of $24 million in damages. They are represented by Jessica Black Livingston of Hogan Lovells in Denver, who did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
On their website, Phoenix Ancient Art states that “by their nature antiquities have a long history and each object has its own story to tell. Historical and intellectual dimensions found by collecting antiquities provide the collector with an intimate knowledge of the past.”