The Republic of Peru has quietly filed a lawsuit against Yale, officially turning a nearly century-long dispute over the rightful ownership of Inca artifacts into a legal battle, the News has learned.

Peru’s 31-page complaint, accompanied by some 26 exhibits, was lodged in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday by the Washington law firm that has represented Peru since last fall. In that time, Peru and Yale came close to signing an agreement that would have kept the parties out of court by sending some — but not all — of the artifacts excavated by Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III back to Machu Picchu, but ultimately were unable to finalize those plans.

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Instead, according to the complaint, Peru now seeks “the immediate return of all such property as well as damages that it has suffered on account of Yale’s persistent breach of its obligations and profit at the expense of the people of Peru.”

The lawsuit does not come as a complete surprise; officials in Peru have hinted since April that they would sue Yale, and those intentions were reiterated by the country’s Council of Ministers in November, when it approved in principle the filing of a lawsuit.

Peru’s attorney, William Cook, a partner with the Washington law firm DLA Piper, declined to comment about the filing.

University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said although Peru filed the lawsuit, Yale has yet to be served with papers. Still, echoing statements she made a month ago, Robinson said she had hoped to resolve the disagreement with Peru amicably.

“Clearly it is a case where there is good reason for both sides to reach a creative, constructive resolution,” she said in an e-mail Tuesday. “We will, of course defend the suit.”