Paris court rejects China's Saint Laurent art claim

PARIS - A Paris court rejected a bid to block the sale of two bronze sculptures claimed by China that are to be auctioned with the art collection of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, a court official said on Monday.

APACE, an association representing Chinese cultural and heritage interests, filed an appeal to have the sale blocked but the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris rejected it, an official at the Paris court told Reuters.

The court also ordered APACE to pay auctioneer's Christie's and Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's former business manager and companion, 1,000 euros ($1,274) in costs each.

The two sculptures, representing the head of a rat and the head of a rabbit, were taken from the Summer Palace in Beijing when it was burned down by invading French and British forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War.

They were acquired by Saint Laurent and Berge as they built up what has been called one of the most important collections of art in private hands, but Chinese officials have said the sculptures rightfully belong to China and should be returned.

After Saint Laurent's death last year, Berge decided to sell the collection, which is estimated to be worth up to $300 million, and donate the proceeds to medical research.

Before the ruling, he had expressed confidence that the appeal to block the sale would be rejected, telling Reuters that he was "completely protected by the law."

Interest in the case went beyond the art world because of tensions between Paris and Beijing over French President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers a separatist.

Berge had offered to hand over the sculptures, valued at 8-10 million euros each, if China agreed to guarantee human rights and allow the Dalai Lama back into Tibet. The Dalai Lama says he only wants greater autonomy for the region.


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