Tuesday, March 3, 2009
We reported recently about an environmentalist who sought to prevent the sale of public lands for oil and gas exploration by bidding on the land himself. That tactic, which Nate Oman dubbed "environmentalism by breach of contract," now has its imitators. Today's Wall Street Journal reports that Mr. Cai Mingchao, a Chinese collector who bid $40.4 million for two bronze sculptures (including a rabbit) now says that the sculptures were looted from Beijing's Imperial Summer Palace during a French and British attack in the 19th century and should be returned there. Mr. Cai told the Journal that he never intended to pay for the sculptures on which he bid.
The sculptures were auctioned off along with the rest of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge. The Journal reports that winning bids are binding contracts but reports that Christie's will not reveal its intentions. The Journal offers the options of (a) a suit against Mr. Cai to enforce the contract; (b) resale to the next highest bidder (which is not, of course inconsistent with (a)); or (c) return of the sculptures to Mr. Berge. The option of returning the sculptures to China does not appear to be on the table.