In a major victory for Chabad, the D.C. District Court has found Russia in contempt and ordered it to pay $50,000 a day until it obeys the court's July 2010 order to turn over to Chabad two collections of books and manuscripts. The court issued the sanctions order yesterday.
The District Court rejected the Justice Department's argument that sanctioning Russia would interfere with the executive branch's conduct of foreign relations.
The U.S. had argued that sanctions would purport to dispose of property held by another state in that state's territory, which would be contrary to international law. The court responded: "The United States has conflated a court's issuing of contempt sanctions with execution or enforcement of an award by, for instance, attaching tangible property."
The court also criticized the government's argument that sanctions would undermine the State Department's attempts to resolve Chabad's dispute with Russia diplomatically -- it had engaged in such efforts going back to 1991. "Though the United States may indeed be 'committed to continuing these efforts,' it provides neither any information regarding its future plans, nor any other reason to believe that its new efforts will be more likely to succeed than past failures."
The Chabad case triggered Russia's embargo on lending art to U.S. museums, now well into its third year, and in its court papers the U.S. said sanctions would interfere with its efforts to end the embargo. The court was not convinced: "The United States fails to reasonably and specifically explain the connection between the proposed sanctions and its ability to negotiate a resolution to the moratorium."
Most experts contacted prior to yesterday's decision expected Chabad to lose.
The ruling comes at a time of deteriorating relations between Russia and the U.S., with the latest example being Russia's banning adoptions by Americans.
Text (c) Copyright 2013 Laura Gilbert