Russian agencies move to sue US Library of Congress

The Art Newspaper 12 February 2013

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "We will seek to make a reciprocal move" after a US court imposed sanctions of $50,000 per day against the country in an ongoing lawsuit over the return of Jewish documents

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has recommended that two Russian government agencies sue the US Library of Congress, the news agency Pravda reported Friday. The move, seemingly in retaliation for US court-ordered sanctions against Russia costing $50,000 per day, is the latest twist in the ongoing dispute between the Brooklyn-based Jewish group Chabad and Russia. 

Chabad has been trying to obtain two collections of Jewish books and manuscripts from Russia since the 1980s and filed a lawsuit in 2004. On 16 January, a Washington, DC District Court sanctioned the Russian government $50,000 per day because Russia had not followed the court’s July 2010 order to turn over the library and archive to Chabad. Shortly after the order, Russia initiated an embargo, which is still in effect, on lending art to American museums, claiming it feared Chabad would seize its art in order to enforce the judgment. American museums responded by refusing to loan art works to Russian institutions. Chabad, for its part, says it will not claim Russian art that is immune from seizure under US law but would enforce the judgment by seizing other Russian property in the US and through monetary sanctions.

The newly threatened lawsuits would be brought in a Russian court and, if successful, would allow Russia to sanction the US. The suits would be brought against the Library of Congress as the conduit for an international interlibrary loan in 1994 of seven books from Russia to Chabad, which were never returned, Russia said. Alexander Samarin, the deputy director of the Russian State Library, characterised the loan as a good will gesture, Pravda reported.

“The Russian State Library’s actions are expected to be symmetrical to the actions of the American side. They are expected to file a lawsuit with a Moscow court. If it finds the Library of Congress guilty of purloining the books and the financial claim is not settled, that will be a basis for Russia to demand the seizure of the non-immune American property abroad,” the Kremlin-funded English-language news channel Russia Today reported.

Expressing immediate outrage at the US court’s order of sanctions in January, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: “We will seek to make a reciprocal move. This [situation] should not be left without reaction.”

When asked about the loan in 2011, a Library of Congress spokeswoman said that it had “received seven books in January 1994 pursuant to an international interlibrary loan from the Russian State Library for 60 days. In January 1994, Russian officials, including the Russian State Library, approved the transfer of the seven books from the Library of Congress to the library in Brooklyn”. Reached on Monday, the spokeswoman said: "because the transfer to the Schneerson Library terminated the loan to the Library of Congress, we have no direct knowledge of the location of the seven books." She had no comment on Russia's plans to sue.

As this story was published, Chabad’s lawyers did not respond to inquiries.
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