Odyssey Wants Government Out of Black Swan Case After WikiLeaks Revelations

by Darrin Lee Unser on January 7, 2011 · 4 comments

Spain v. Odyssey Legal DisputeLegal proceedings that date back over two years continue in the dispute over recovered sunken coin treasure as lawyers for the company in possession of the treasure filed a new motion in the matter.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, based in Tampa, Florida, directed its legal team to file a Motion to Strike the amicus brief filed by the United States in support of Spain in the "Black Swan" case currently pending before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. If the court opts to not strike the brief, Odyssey seeks to have the court direct the United States government to amend its statement of interest to more accurately reflect its true position on the matter.

The motion is in direct response to several U.S. State Department cables obtained and recently released by the website WikiLeaks which indicated that the U.S. State Department was willing to offer assistance to the country of Spain against Odyssey. In exchange, U.S. diplomats were asking for help in the return of a painting now in a Madrid museum, but believed to be confiscated from its rightful owners by the Nazis in the 1930’s.

"We have brought to the Court’s attention the evidence suggesting that the involvement of the U.S. Executive Branch in the ‘Black Swan‘ case goes beyond its interest in interpreting applicable laws," states Melinda MacConnel, Odyssey Vice President and General Counsel.

"The U.S. Government’s interest appears to have been related to a promise of support for Spain in exchange for assistance in obtaining this painting for a U.S. citizen. This calls into question whether there may have been any other offers of support in exchange for favors completely unrelated to this case. Any interest in the case of the U.S. beyond those stated in their filing should warrant striking the amicus brief or at the very least, require a full explanation of the motives behind their support of Spain."

At stake is over 17-tons of recovered treasure including 500,000-plus Colonial-era silver coins, hundreds of gold coins as well as other precious metal artifacts.

"The possibility that someone in the U.S. Government came up with this perfidious offer to sacrifice Odyssey, its thousands of shareholders, and the many jobs created by the company in exchange for the return of one painting to one individual is hard to believe," stated Greg Stemm, Odyssey CEO.

"The WikiLeaks cables clearly show that we have worked cooperatively and transparently with both Spain and the State Department for many years, in spite of claims to the contrary. That fact makes the revelations all the more disappointing."

Odyssey had announced the find and recovery of the treasure back in 2007 from a site in the Atlantic Ocean off of the coast of Gibraltar. That announcement brought about almost an immediate response from Spain which has indicated it believes the wreck was that of the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a Spanish frigate sunk by the British in 1804.

Within weeks of the Odyssey announcement of the find, Spain seized two different Odyssey vessels and forced them to port for inspections. The country then turned to the U.S. legal system in an attempt to obtain ownership of the treasure which had been transported to U.S. soil. A district court sided with Spain and ruled the treasure over to country.

Odyssey is appealing the decision and pursuing its belief that even if the recovered coins and artifacts are from the Mercedes, which it states has not been proven, it would not legally belong to Spain as the ship was on a commercial voyage at the time of its sinking. Documents have been given indicating that most of the cargo was for private merchants, and not for the government of Spain.

 

The matter is scheduled for oral arguments by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals sometime during the week of February 11, 2011.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rose Springer January 8, 2011 at 12:31 am

I just watched the documentary about this salvage expedition. Clearly, the Spanish Government broke international law and overstepped their bounds. Clearly the expeditions director’s did everything within their power to conform to international law. The fact that the US government sided with the Spanish Government is very suspicious, even without a clear explanation. To my mind, in affect, what the US Government was saying was, Governments can do what ever they want, when they want, despite the laws they having agreed to enforce. As if they are somehow exempt of those very laws, when it’s not in their best interest. It seems they sacrifice the citizen rights they’ve sworn to protect, simply to benefit themselves. No big surprise! If intentions and blood, sweat and tears counted for anything, the Spanish would get NOTHING and Odessey would get everything. If nothing else, the governments involved should know that the public is ON to you and you have completely lost ALL face and respect. Odessey should know, we APPLAUD your honesty throughout this farce, and your actions make you deserving of the respect your opponents mistakenly think they command for themselves.

leadbellt January 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm

the gold and silver should be given back to the new world countries it was originally stolen from,,period.oddessy sould get a finders fee and labor/ recovery compensation,, screw spain, genocidal maniac money

M.G. January 19, 2011 at 11:51 am

The US government’s actions in this case are utterly deplorable. As a shareholder in Odyssey Marine, I can only hope the Appeals Court will see the facts in an untainted light. Questions obviously remain about why the federal district court wrote such a fundamentally flawed initial decision. It’s as if they were prompted what to decide and then, in protest, wrote the decision so poorly it would have to be struck down on appeal.

The law is very clear on finds such as this one — the gold is not subject to to the Soverign Immunity rule because the voyage was commercial and not military in purpose. After fifteen years (since the passage of the Sunken Military Craft Act) of interpreting “on military noncommercial service” as just that — on military service, NOT commercial service — the US government now, all of a sudden, just for this ONE case, has decided “noncommercial service” doesn’t really mean noncommercial service. And they did this, amazingly enough, through the Attorney General’s Office instead of the legislative branch. Amazing. No wonder they want to take down Wikileaks.

IamJoyceM March 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm

WOW! I would never have expected this to be the outcome. What would the US have traded if the one private citizen didn’t need a painting back? Will we ever know the identity of this person or the painting be named? How could this happen?

So disappointed in our country for this one. Clearly the Odyssey team did exactly what they should’ve done and just got royally screwed out of their life’s work .

Now that the coins have been moved to Spain, it will never be righted. They should’ve allowed them to return them to where they found them (without telling where it was) and let the Spanish go find the treasure for themselves.

If I feel this frustrated for them, I cannot ever fathom how the Odyssey team must feel.

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