Judges prepare to hold the first Amsterdam court public hearing in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July 14, 2017. The Dutch collector should disclose the new holder of a disputed mummy Buddha statue, demanded the Chinese villagers at the first Amsterdam court public hearing on Friday afternoon. The lawsuit was filed by the committees of two villages in China's southeastern province of Fujian against a Dutch collector when the Buddha statue called ZhangGong, stolen from their temple in 1995, was recognized at a museum exhibition in Hungary. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)
AMSTERDAM, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Chinese villagers are taking a Dutch art collector to court here over ownership of a Buddha statue containing a mummified body.
The Buddha statue with an intact mummified body inside was stolen from a temple in 1995 after being worshipped for centuries in the small eastern Chinese village of Yangchun in Fujian Province.
The Dutch collector Oscar van Overeem said he collected the 11th-century relic in Hong Kong in 1996, one year after the disappearance of the statue.
Missing for two decades, the Buddha statue resurfaced when villagers recognized it at the "Mummy World Exhibition" in Budapest, Hungary.
The Dutch collector originally agreed to return it if his conditions were met. When negotiations failed, the villagers filed a lawsuit against him in the Dutch court.
The villagers now are entitled by the Amsterdam District Court to claim the relic and restore it to its rightful place, their hometown.
However, van Overeem said that the Buddha statue that he bought is not the stolen statue from the small village in China.
The Chinese characters of "Liu Quan," the name of Zhang Gong as well as "Pu Zhao Tang," the name of the village temple which were written on the linen roll found in the statue make it obvious that this statue is the one stolen from the village.
The lawyers representing the villagers used an argument under Dutch law that says "a person is not allowed to have a corpse of an identifiable person in their possession."
Yet the Dutch collector argued that what was discovered in the statue was not a "corpse" but "human remains" because "most of the organs are absent."
The defendant said that he swapped the statue for several Buddhist art objects from the private collection of a third party on Nov. 29, 2015 and committed not to disclose the third party's identity.
Now the villagers are asking the court to demand the Dutch collector disclose the "exchange agreement" and the identity of the "third party." For them, the exchange agreement is contrary to common decency and public order and therefore is void.
The case is being closely watched as it could mark the first successful retrieval of Chinese relics in court. Previous relics have been returned to their rightful owners through diplomatic channels.