Judge nixes extradition in case of painting looted by Nazis

AP News
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Posted: Aug 03, 2015 8:57 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Poland lacks probable cause to extradite a Russian art dealer living in New York on criminal charges accusing him of knowing that an 18th-century painting taken from a Polish museum by the Nazis during World War II was stolen property when he inherited it from his father, a judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan rejected the request to extradite Alexander Khochinskiy, saying the government of Poland failed to produce any evidence that Khochinskiy knew "Girl with a Dove" was stolen when he acquired it.

Khochinskiy, 64, was arrested at his Manhattan apartment in February at the request of Polish authorities, who said he had refused to turn over the 1754 oil painting by Antoine Pesne that was stolen from a Polish museum during the war.

At a spring hearing, Khochinskiy testified that his father, a former Soviet soldier, came home from the war with the painting and he inherited it when his father died in 1991.

Rakoff wrote that evidence supported Khochinskiy's claim that he inherited the painting and only learned that Poland was seeking it in 2010.

"Undisputed evidence showed that Khochinskiy openly displayed the painting in his gallery in Moscow for many years and listed it in published catalogs," the judge wrote. "This behavior is inconsistent with someone who knows his property is sought by a foreign sovereign."

The judge said Poland lacks a sufficient basis to hold Khochinskiy for trial if it cannot establish probable cause that he committed a crime.

The Third Reich took "Girl with a Dove" in 1943 from the National Museum in Poznan, Poland, according to court papers. At the end of the war, the Red Army recovered the painting and took it to a repository in the Soviet Union, the complaint said.

In 2010, Khochinskiy contacted the Polish Embassy in Moscow, saying he had discovered that the painting was on the list of missing art objects, according to court papers filed by the U.S. government on Poland's behalf.

Polish officials, after authenticating the painting at Khochinskiy's gallery in Moscow, demanded that Khochinskiy return it without compensation in 2011. After not hearing back from him, Russian authorities agreed to try to seize the painting. But when they went to his gallery, it was gone.

Khochinskiy, who has been free on bail, admitted he still has the painting stored at an undisclosed location.

Betsy Feuerstein, a spokeswoman for a U.S. government attorney who argued the case, declined comment.

Christopher A. Flood, an attorney for Khochinskiy, said in an email: "We are extremely happy with this result. We have always firmly believed that this matter is not appropriately the subject of a criminal extradition. Now that it is resolved, Mr. Khochinskiy looks forward to resuming normal life with his family."