Painting looted by Nazis causes US extradition fight

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NEW YORK (AP) — A Russian art dealer living in New York is fighting extradition to Poland to face charges accusing him of refusing to turn over an 18th-century painting taken from a Polish museum by the Nazis during World War II.

Lawyers for Alexander Khochinskiy were in federal court in Manhattan on Monday to ask a judge to throw out an extradition complaint charging him with possessing stolen property. They argued there wasn't enough evidence to show Khochinskiy knew the 1754 painting — "Girl with a Dove" by Antoine Pesne — was stolen, as required by an extradition treaty, and that he's the legal owner anyway.

Prosecutor Katherine Reilly conceded there were unanswered questions about how the painting ended up in Khochinskiy's hands. But she argued there was still probable cause for granting extradition.

"I doubt that anyone knows quite what happened to it, and I don't think we need to know," Reilly said.

Khochinskiy, 64, was arrested at his lower Manhattan apartment in February. He was later freed on $100,000 bond.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said he wanted to hear further arguments before ruling. He set another hearing for June 17.

The Third Reich took "Girl with a Dove" in 1943 from the National Museum in Poznan, Poland, according to court papers. At the end of the war, the Red Army recovered the painting and took it to a repository in the Soviet Union, the complaint says.

In 2010, Khochinskiy contacted the Polish Embassy in Moscow in 2010, saying he had discovered that the painting was on the list of missing art objects, according to court papers filed by the government. He also suggested that it could be returned in exchange for a cash payment compensating his family for land his mother lost during the war, the papers add.

Polish officials, once authenticating the painting at Khochinskiy's gallery in Moscow, demanded that Khochinskiy return it without compensation in 2011. After not hearing back from him, Russian authorities agreed to try to seize the painting. But when they went to his gallery, it was gone, court papers say.

Khochinskiy admits he still has the painting stored at an undisclosed location. His lawyers have argued in court papers he became the legal owner of the painting after inheriting it from his father, a former Soviet soldier who brought it home from the war and hung it for years in his apartment in Leningrad before his death in 1991.

The lawyers also claim Russia prohibits exporting cultural valuables obtained from Germany and its allies during the war unless the owner gets fair compensation and Russian officials authorize it.

A review of law shows "there is simply no crime here," the lawyers wrote. "There is only a civil dispute between competing, good-faith claims of ownership to a painting in the Russian Federation."

Neither side has given an estimated value for the painting.

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