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Government of Peru v. Johnson
United States District Court for the Central District of California
720 F. Supp. 810 (1989)
The United States Customs Service seized 89 pre-Columbian artifacts from Benjamin Johnson (defendant). The artifacts appeared to be Peruvian in style. The government of Peru (plaintiff) filed a conversion lawsuit against Johnson in the United States, alleging that it owned the artifacts and seeking their return. Under Peruvian law, Peru owned all unregistered pre-Colombian artifacts found in the country after 1929. However, a change in the law in 1985 left a period between January 5 and June 22, 1985, during which time excavated pre-Colombian artifacts could be owned by a private individual. Further, the extent of Peru’s ownership over pre-Columbian artifacts was unclear, as Peru had never sought to exercise its ownership rights over such property. At trial, a Peruvian archaeologist stated that the artifacts likely came from a particular site in Peru. However, the archaeologist also explained that the Peruvian pre-Columbian culture to which the artifacts were linked included parts of Bolivia and Ecuador. Johnson argued that he had purchased the artifacts in good faith and that Peru had failed to establish its ownership of the artifacts.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Gray, J.)
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