U.S. government opposes fines on Russia over Chabad manuscripts

(JTA) — The U.S. government opposed leveling a fine on Russia for failing to return a collection of sacred books and manuscripts.

The Justice Department argued recently in a filing in U.S. District Court in Washington that leveling sanctions against Russia in this case would not serve foreign policy interests and would be contrary to U.S. law, The Associated Press reported.

Chabad sued the Russian government in 2004 after other efforts failed in recovering more than 25,000 pages of Chabad-owned original sacred texts. The texts had been transported from Poland to Moscow by the Red Army at the end of World War II in 1945 along with the movement’s library, which was seized by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1917.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lambert in 2010 ordered the Russian government to turn over the records to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or directly to Chabad, ruling that they were being held illegally by the Russian State Library and the Russian military archive. 

Russia does not recognize the U.S. court’s authority in the case. In 2009, Russia said the U.S. District Court in Washington had “no authority to enter orders with respect to the property owned by the Russian Federation and in its possession,” that the United States can deal with the dispute through diplomatic channels and Chabad should file a suit in Russian courts.

Russia argues that the texts are part of its national heritage.

Due to the lawsuit, Russia has halted the loan of Russian artwork for exhibit in the United States for fear that they will be seized.

In its filing, the Justice Department said the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act prevents it from leveling the fines, according to the AP.

A court in the Soviet Union ruled in 1991 that the texts should be turned over to Chabad, but Russia threw out the judgment after the collapse of the Soviet empire.

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