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Government turns its fire against art smugglers

This Rubens painting was smuggled out of Belgium in 1992, and sold to an unwitting American collector


The government has decided to come out fighting against the illegal import, export and transfer of cultural property. A draft law, unveiled by the cabinet, would bring Switzerland into line with a 1970 Unesco convention.

The new law would make it far easier for illegally exported objects to be returned to their home countries. It envisages extending the period during which a country can lay claim to an object to 30 years, rather than the current five.

Supporters of the legislation argue that it would better protect Switzerland's cultural heritage, and lead to the greater international cooperation in art exchanges, and other cultural projects.

At present, there is no specific federal law regulating the trade in art and artefacts, and Switzerland is also not a party to international agreements regulating transfers of cultural property.

A consultation in 1993 showed that most of the interested parties were in favour of signing the Unesco convention on the smuggling of cultural property. However, as Switzerland does not apply the organisation's treaties, a specific law is needed.

It will go before parliament next year.

swissinfo with agencies

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