(CN) – A federal judge refused to let diplomatic immunity shield a Parisian art dealer from claims that he ripped off a New York art collector on Andy Warhol prints.
Laura Barbata says she paid Marc Latamie $400,000 for a portfolio of authentic Warhol prints in 2008. Though the 1971 “Electric Chair” prints were damaged, the French art dealer allegedly promised to have them restored.
Barbata says Latamie moved the prints to an undisclosed art storage facility that same year and refuses to return them to her.
She claims Latamie also pocketed her $25,000 deposit for the canceled sale of a Pablo Picasso print.
In a motion to dismiss the 2011 federal complaint, Latiamie said he is entitled to immunity under the Vienna Convention.
Latamie holds an A-2 diplomatic visa, not a green card, and claims he has permanent residency in the United States because he has lived here for 20 years.
“The defendant argues that he is domiciled in the state of New York and he has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States because, pursuant to his A-2 diplomatic visa, he has been allowed to stay in the United States without any required exit date for the past twenty years,” the court summarized. “The defendant is wrong. The exception for lawful permanent residents in § 1332 applies to aliens who have formally been granted permanent residence in the United States, not holders of nonimmigrant A-2 visas.”
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said that the Vienna Convention does not grant immunity to aliens involved in commercial activity, such as selling art prints.
“The defendant is not entitled to diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention,” she wrote. “The defendant raises his immunity argument for the first time in his reply brief, and does not establish a legal basis for how or why he should be considered a diplomatic agent. Regardless, this action arises out of an alleged agreement to purchase a portfolio of art prints. This is commercial activity, and Latamie has made no claims regarding any ‘official functions’ within which such commercial activity might fall.”