Negotiations between the Russian Federation and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement over the return of Jewish texts in the custody of Russian state agencies have failed to date, according to a new filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
In a statement (PDF) filed with the court yesterday afternoon, Chabad asked U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth to begin issuing monetary sanctions against the Russian government until the texts are returned.
Chabad sued the Russian Federation in 2004, seeking the return of about 12,000 books and manuscripts seized during unrest in Russia in the early 20th century and 25,000 pages of handwritten texts stolen by Nazis during World War II and taken by Russian soldiers after the war.
The case was transferred from U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to Washington in June 2005. Lamberth ordered the Russian government to return the texts in August 2010, but Chabad asked for a delay in enforcing the judgment to attempt negotiations.
In yesterday’s statement, Chabad informed Lamberth that it made “good faith efforts to negotiate” during meetings at the Russian embassy in Washington. Chabad wrote that the Russian government had refused to comply with the court order or turn over part of the collection in the interim as a sign of good will.
Chabad asked Lamberth to begin issuing daily or weekly monetary sanctions against the Russian government as long as it refuses to return the texts. Chabad wrote that it will begin efforts to enforce the judgment, but reaffirmed an earlier pledge not to seize Russian art or cultural objects in the United States. Last year, Russian officials expressed fear of such an attachment, ordering a ban on art loans and the return of art already on loan.
Seth Gerber of Bingham McCutchen in Santa Monica, Calif., co-lead counsel for Chabad, said in a phone interview Tuesday that Chabad met twice with officials at the embassy, but those talks did not lead to “an amicable resolution.” He also pointed to comments made in January by the Russian cultural minister that dialogue would only be possible if Chabad ended the litigation.
“In light of those comments and the lack of any progress in our negotiations, we were faced with silence, rather than an agreement,” Gerber said. “Therefore we were left with no option other than to seek enforcement of the judgment.”
Gerber declined to discuss what assets Chabad might attempt to seize, but said any actions would be in compliance with the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. He said Chabad is open to future talks, but none are scheduled to date. Chabad is also represented by Nathan Lewin of Washington’s Lewin & Lewin.
A spokesman at the Russian embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Russian Federation has not participated in the case since June 2009, when it notified Lamberth that it would no longer recognize the court’s authority or consider court orders binding.