New legislation proposed by Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback to increase the statue of limitations in cases of Nazi-looted property, and allow its original owners or their heirs to make claims on it, passed a first reading by the Bavarian state government on Tuesday.
The German Civil Code’s statute of limitations for looted art is currently 30 years. Bausback, a former law professor, announced in November 2013 that his legal team would create the legislation in response to international uproar in the wake of the discovery of a high-profile trove of suspected Nazi-looted during a tax investigation search in a Munich apartment in February 2012.
Bausback told German newspaper Der Spiegel that his team was drafting legislation that would address “bad faith acquisitions” — forced sales or Nazi-tainted art — and prevent invoking the statute of limitations for these civil law claims.
The Munich trove, part of the collection of notorious Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, has been in the hands of his son, Cornelius, presumably since Gurlitt’s death in 1956. The collection, whose worth is estimated at some $1.4 billion, would be excluded from claims from original owners or their heirs under the current statute of limitations.
The Civil Code is federal, not state law, and will now be debated in the federal government’s Upper Chamber (Bundesrat), German solicitor Peter Bert wrote in his Dispute Resolutions in Germany blog.
According to Bert, the legislation is set for a February 14, 2014, session of the Bundesrat. If approved, it will also be read in the Lower Chamber (Bundestag).
“This would apply to cases of so-called ‘degenerate art’ or Nazi-looted art, when works were taken for example from Jewish owners in the context of their oppression or expulsion by the National Socialist reign of terror,” Bausback, the Bavarian justice minister, said in a statement on Tuesday. “The condition is that the current holder of the work acted in bad faith, knowing exactly the origin of the item or having clear evidence for it at the time he acquired it.”
In a December interview with The Times of Israel, Bert estimated the law could be passed within six weeks.