The plaintiffs have argued that Christie’s should not have gone forward with the sale because the auction house understood that there had been an Italian investigation into the accusation that the diamond had been stolen. In an email cited in the court records, a Christie’s official says that she told representative of the sheikh — Guy Bennett, an art adviser — about the ownership dispute. In court papers, Mr. Bennett said Christie’s told him there was a legal issue with the diamond, but said before the sale that it had been resolved.
The plaintiffs say they did not know where the diamond was until shortly before the Christie’s auction and that they approached Christie’s then, saying the diamond was likely theirs. But Christie’s threatened to file suit if the sale was blocked and the plaintiffs did not try to stop the auction.
According to court documents, the auction house spent at least $120,000 to investigate the provenance of the diamond and they say they found no evidence Mr. Angiolillo’s children had inherited it. Indeed, the defendants have argued in court that his descendants did not declare that they had inherited the diamond on their taxes (though a judge pointed out that no evidence has been presented to show that Ms. Angiolillo or Mr. Milella paid taxes on it either). The auction house has further argued that its client purchased the gem in Switzerland, where property can be acquired legally if a good faith purchaser is not aware of any accusations of theft.
But a New York judge ruled that Christie’s could not claim the benefit of Swiss law, saying that the sale being challenged had been administered in New York by a New York auction house and that the Princie Diamond had had “de minimis” contacts with Switzerland.
Scott Balber, a lawyer who is representing the Angiolillos, said Christie’s was more concerned with using Swiss law to argue that its client could safely sell the diamond rather than to establish who really owned it.
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