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Wikileaks Reveals State Dept Deal with Spain In Black Swan Treasure Lawsuit

For years, Odyssey Marine has been in litigation with the Spanish government over a 17 tons of gold and silver coins that Odyssey discovered from “The Black Swan”.

The 19th-century shipwreck at the heart of the dispute with Odyssey Marine Exploration is the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes — a Spanish warship sunk by the British navy southwest of Portugal in 1804 with more than 200 people on board.

The Legal Proceedings:

Odyssey announced in May 2007 it had discovered the wreck in the Atlantic and raised 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts worth an estimated US$500 million (€324 million). The coins and artifacts were brought into the United States with a valid export license and imported legally pursuant to U.S. law. Odyssey brought the artifacts under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court by filing an Admiralty arrest action. This procedure allows any legitimate claimant with an interest in the property to make a claim.

Spain went to the U.S. federal court claiming ownership of the treasure and the case is currently set for Oral Arguments tentatively scheduled to take place during the week of February 28, 2011 at the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Additional appeals have been filed by groups who have presented documentation indicating that if Spain is correct, and the recovered cargo originated from the Mercedes, they are descendants of the owners of Mercedes’ cargo and have legitimate property rights. Those claimants have recognized Odyssey’s archaeological recovery efforts and have acknowledged Odyssey’s right to a salvage award.

Back To the WikiLeaks Disclosure:

Among the thousands of documents released by WikiLeaks are several U.S. diplomatic cables describing how U.S. ambassadors were helping Spain in their cause — partly to help broker a deal to bring a famous painting in Spain to a U.S. citizen who claimed it was looted by the Nazis in World War II.

Specifically the U.S. offered to provide confidential customs documents prepared by Odyssey that Spain in turn planned to use in court to fight Odyssey, presumably to discredit claims that the treasure was imported legally to the US.

Odyssey officials are not pleased at the revelation:

“The cables seem to indicate that someone in the U.S. State Department has literally offered to sacrifice Odyssey and its thousands of shareholders along with the many jobs created by the company in exchange for the return of one painting to one U.S. Citizen,” the company said in a statement “It is hard to believe that this really happened. It sounds like something out of a Hollywood script.”

According to an MSNBC Article:

A diplomatic cable a year later describes how the U.S. Ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, suggested a deal.

He met with Spanish Minister of Culture Cesar Antonio Molina on June 30, 2008, who told the U.S. Ambassador that they should meet over the issue of a claim by an American citizen, Claude Cassirer, to recover a painting by Camille Pissarro. Cassirer claims the Nazis in 1939 forced his grandmother to sell them the painting and it passed through several hands before ending up in a Spanish museum.

“The [U.S.] ambassador noted also that while the Odyssey and Cassirer claim were on separate legal tracks,” the cable states, “it was in both governments’ interest to avail themselves of whatever margin for manouevre they had, consistent with their legal obligations, to resolve both matters in a way that favoured the bilateral relationship.”

The Spanish official replied, the cable says, that there were many steps required before any movement on the painting, but that he had recently flown to Washington, in part, to meet with lawyers that Spain retained in the Odyssey case. He expressed “indignation” after a CNN interview where Odyssey CEO Greg Stemm aimed to keep the treasure and return only items of archeological value.

London’s Guardian newspaper first reported the cables, as part of its ongoing digestion of thousands of documents released by WikiLeaks. The U.S. government has condemned the release and called for prosecution of WikiLeaks founders.

The Spanish were “grateful” after Department of Homeland Security staff in the U.S. embassy in Madrid handed the Spanish customs import documents that Odyssey had filed when bringing the treasure to Tampa.

“The information was confidential,” the U.S. cable stated, “and to be used only for law enforcement purposes.” The Spanish replied that they were “interested in obtaining the Odyssey customs information to provide to lawyers representing the [Government of Spain] in the Tampa Admiralty Court.”

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RSS Feed for This Post7 Comment(s)

  1. Lisa Roberts | Dec 13, 2010 | Reply

    Dirty hands are everywhere on this. Odyssey did all the work to make sure this claim was legally done with Spain and the US. Our own government plays these games with Spain leaving Odyssey as a casualty along with the shareholders. Archeological preservation and descendants property being returned are just part of what Odyssey does, they don’t plunder and steal!

  2. saruman | Dec 13, 2010 | Reply

    Leave it to Obama’s Justice & State Department to bamboozle OMR, an American company and their share holders, who by the way, played by the rules. Shame on the U.S. Government!

  3. Calvin Vita | Dec 13, 2010 | Reply

    I am so sick of our own duplicitous government. Politicians are dressed-up low lives.

  4. Ana Maria | Dec 17, 2010 | Reply

    The Odyssey is willing to turn in Archaelogical artifacts to Spain, however, not the coins, because of their value. If the situation was reversed, we would be arguing about how this is part of our history and it should be returned to us. As soon as the find was announced the Odyssey’s stock tripled in value. This is all about greediness, why not go back to the principles of the mission and get the glory of the find and it’s historical value and charge a usual finder’s fee, vs. a Pirate approach.

  5. Michael | Dec 17, 2010 | Reply

    Though I do agree the government went to far in there role. Unfortunately, Obama and his state department didnt take office until a year after the situation with OME started. Hopefully, the courts will see the dudiligence put forth by OME in the finding and recovering The Black Swan

  6. Saruman | Jan 6, 2011 | Reply

    Ana Maria, what planet are you from?

    Of course they’re not returning the coins. OMEX is a business. Businesses make money and OMEX worked hard to find this treasure and even invited Spain to come on board throughout the search. They had a working agreement with Spain. Spain decided not to come along under the guidance of Ms. Calvo-(The Culture Minister at the time).

    Well you know what. Tough Luck! Ms. Calvo was negligent and screwed up big time, but now she wants it back.

    No way. Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers!

  7. William Inglis | Jan 12, 2011 | Reply

    The Spanish are being very hypocritical here–sanctimoniously posing as guardians of a nation’s history and culture.

    The reality is that they murdered and plundered countless native peoples in the Western Hemisphere to get that gold, and it is little different that finding a sack of treasure left behind by fleeing bandeleros.

    Return the architectural treasures to the Peruvians and Bolivians and other countries raped by Spanish Colonialism. Send the balance to the us for the cost of enforcing the Monroe Doctrine.

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