The University of Chicago and The Field Museum won’t have to turn over ancient Persian artifacts in their possession to help resolve a legal settlement owed to survivors of a terrorist attack, a federal judge has ruled.
In a long-running court battle, nine American victims of the 1997 attack in Jerusalem sued Iran, where the artifacts were excavated, for being a financial supporter of Hamas, the Palestinian extremist group.
The victims won a multimillion-dollar court judgment.
To collect on that, attorneys for the plaintiffs have been trying to gain control of Iranian assets in the United States, including artifacts the Chicago museum has had for decades, according to the ruling.
In Thursday’s decision, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman held that the plaintiffs’ argument was flawed because there was no evidence that Iran has asserted ownership over the collections.
“The court recognizes the tragic circumstances that gave rise to the instant action, but finds the law cited by the plaintiffs does not offer the remedy they seek,” Gettleman said in the decision.
Keepers of the Chicago collections said the pieces were priceless and welcomed the court’s ruling.
“These ancient artifacts...have unique historical and cultural value,” said Gil Stein, director of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute in a statement. The university “will continue our efforts to preserve and protect this cultural heritage,” he said.
David Strachman, an attorney for the victims who brought the lawsuit, said his clients were particularly upset that the U.S. State Department “takes the side of Iran in these cases.”
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