Connecticut court to hear Yale-Peru case

The lawsuit that Peru filed against Yale in December moved closer to New Haven this summer when a federal judge in Washington ruled that his court had no jurisdiction over the matter.

Now the United States District Court in Connecticut will hear the case, in which Peru argues for the return of the Inca artifacts excavated by Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III from Machu Picchu nearly a century ago. The artifacts are currently housed at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Yale had said for months that the case should be transferred to the Connecticut court.

“None of Peru’s claims have any merit,” Yale’s lawyers wrote in a motion calling for the case to be dismissed earlier this year, “but even if Peru’s claims had any merit … the District of Columbia would not be the right place to resolve them.”

Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ruled in the University’s favor on July 30. Peru’s lawyer, William Cook of DLA Piper, expressed optimism after learning of the decision, even though he told the News this spring that “the issue is that D.C. is the appropriate place for the case to be heard.” Peru even filed a 57-page amended complaint in April outlining decades of history that the country’s lawyers said explained why the court in Washington should hear the case.

In July, though, Cook said in an e-mail message, “We are totally comfortable with the case being tried in Connecticut, and the people of Peru look forward to the opportunity to present the merits of their case to the Court in New Haven.”

That said, Yale is still hoping to get the case dismissed entirely. In an e-mail message to the News this week, University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said Yale expects “to move to dismiss the suit as baseless” within the next few weeks.

If the case is dismissed this fall, it will put an end to two years of legal threats and arguments that have followed a tentative agreement between the parties that was signed in September 2007.

That memorandum of understanding, hailed by Yale as a breakthrough after years of strife relating to the artifacts, was criticized within Peru as being too lenient toward Yale. The agreement would have sent most of the high-quality artifacts back to Peru but Yale would have retained the rights to some artifacts for research purposes over the next 99 years. Now Peru is suing for the immediate return of all the artifacts.

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