UPDATE 3/13/2008 10:38PM ET: Added the phrase "allegedly tried to extort." See below.
Note: Although I'm a writer for The Claremont Independent, I am commenting on this article as a concerned citizen. As always, any statement I make should be considered my own and do not in any way reflect upon Ms. Viebeck, The Claremont Independent, or Claremont McKenna.
Elise Viebeck of The Claremont Independent has broken a story about some rather questionable ethics of Professor Petropoulous vis a vis Holocaust survivors and their artwork. Although it should be stated that he is facing no legal action, it's safe to wonder why he felt this behavior was appropriate.
This is really bad news for the Holocaust Center. I wonder what they think about this situation...
So what did he do?
Petropoulous abused his position of power over Ms. Gisela Fischer, a Holocaust survivor, and allegedly tried to extort money from her to get back a painting stolen from her family by the Nazis.
(For legal purposes, please be clear that I am using the following definition of the word "extort" and do not in any way mean that what Professor Petropoulous allegedly did is "illegal" or violent I mean the word in this sense, "to obtain from another by coercion or intimidation.")
(Cited fully here: Chicago Manual Style (CMS): extort. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/extort (accessed: March 12, 2008). If any, of course, should feel the desire to sue me, I kindly direct you to the Leonard Law.)
Here's the ethical quandrary:
Ori Z. Soltes is a co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP), former director of the National Jewish Museum, and a professor of theology at Georgetown University. In a recent phone conversation with the CI, he explained the fine line between ethical and unethical practices in art restitution: "Someone comes to you and says 'Could you do research to help me find this?' and you do so for a fee because that is how you make a living. You agree to a rate for your work. That's different from going to someone and saying 'I'll get it for your once you agree to give me a percentage.'"To her credit, Ms. Fischer turned down Petropoulous's "offer."
Fischer rejected his request in a letter on February 1. "I decline the terms you have repeated: that a separate contract for a 'finder's fee' of 18 percent is warranted by you and Jonathan Petropoulos before you actively establish contact between me and the current holders or their lawyers," she wrote. "To me this constitutes a threat: if I don't obey your demands, the Pissarro will disappear again as it did in 1938."
On April 2, with no progress in sight, Kückelmann filed charges against Griebert in Munich. He based his complaint on § 253 of the German Criminal Code which defines Erpressung, rendered in English as "demanding with menaces," or blackmail. Munich Chief Prosecutor Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld told ARTNews in summer 2007 that the investigation did not include Petropoulos because he is an American and his alleged crimes would have taken place outside Germany.