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Court Brew-Haha Over a Golden Cauldron

HOUSTON (CN) - A Texan who bought an "ancient pre-Christian Celtic cauldron made of gold" for $1.1 million claims in court that the man who allegedly found it at the bottom of a German lake has no rights to it.

German explorer Jens Essig discovered the Chiemsee Cauldron in 2001 in Lake Chiemsee.

The 18-karat gold vessel is collecting dust in a Texas storage locker, according to a March 2 lawsuit in Harris County Court.

Josef Hatzenbuehler sued Essig, claiming the explorer called him more than 15 times in March 2014 and urged him to bid on the cauldron that was up for auction in a Swiss bankruptcy proceeding.

Essig told Hatzenbuehler the cauldron was a "genuine ancient pre-Christian Celtic cauldron" and that its value was far greater than the gold itself because it had "special significance in Celtic culture," according to the lawsuit.

Hatzenbuehler is a retired businessman and engineer who has lived in Texas for "many years" after graduating from Cornell University, according to his attorney Pascal Piazza of Houston.

"Jens also repeatedly reaffirmed to Josef in Harris County, Texas that Josef individually would be the sole owner of the cauldron if Josef made the successful bid, that the cauldron would be shipped to Texas, and that Jens would receive 50 percent of any net profits if Josef were to sell the cauldron," the complaint states.

Hatzenbuehler claims that Essig sold him "creditor-rights of a small claim" in bankruptcy so he could make the final bid, and the men signed a preliminary agreement, but he says he never agreed to give Essig any ownership rights to the cauldron.

Hatzenbuehler made the winning bid of 965,000 Swiss francs, equal to $1.1 million, according to the complaint.

Hatzenbuehler says the cauldron was shipped to him in Harris County and he locked it up in a storage unit.

Now Hatzenbuehler is questioning Essig's story about the cauldron's Celtic origins and whether it's worth what he paid for it, his attorney said.

"Basically, Mr. Essig said this was an ancient Celtic cauldron and we paid over $1 million for it. If it turns out not to be that, then it's probably worth only $400,000," Piazza told Courthouse News.

"As far as we know, it's gold. The main thing is the difference between being an ancient Celtic cauldron and a cauldron, as some people now say, that was basically put together in the mid-20th century."

When Essig discovered the cauldron it was thought to be 2,000 years old due to its Celtic-style designs. But after experts analyzed it they pegged it as an early 20th-century work, according to publicly available information.

Mysteries, a Swiss magazine, reported that the cauldron is believed to be the work of Otto Gahr, a German goldsmith and Nazi Party member, who died in 1932.

A Nazi Party member allegedly commissioned the piece.

Besides the questions about its origins and value, Hatzenbuehler says, he is fighting with Essig over who owns the cauldron.

Essig is demanding that Hatzenbuehler return the cauldron and give up his sole ownership rights, Hatzenbuehler says.

Essig claims he is an owner of the cauldron by "some alleged partnership, corporation or other relationship," and there are contracts for the right to use the cauldron so it can't stay in Texas, according to the lawsuit.

Hatzenbuehler seeks damages for fraud, fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract.

He is represented by Piazza, with Zukowski, Bresenhan, Sinex & Petry.

University of Houston law professor Richard Alderman said that if Hatzenbuehler wins a judgment against Essig, who lives in Germany, he would have to go through German courts to collect.

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