WikiLeaks: US Ambassadors Helped Spain Fight Treasure Hunters

Diplomat turned over documents to aid legal battle over gold and silver

Now, it turns out, Spain has been getting secret help since 2007 from an unlikely source: The U.S. government.

By Richard Mullins |

Odyssey found the treasure in May 2007 and has since argued that the treasure was on board a Spanish commercial vessel. The ship sank in international waters, possibly in 1804 while carrying commercial goods from Peru, Odyssey says, and was thus fair game for any salvage company that found it. Odyssey is now locked in a protracted legal battle with Spain, which claims the treasure was on a military mission at the time, and thus Spanish property forever.

A diplomatic cable a year later describes how the U.S. Ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, suggested a deal.

He met with Spanish Minister of Culture Cesar Antonio Molina on June 30, 2008, who told the U.S. Ambassador that they should meet over the issue of a claim by an American citizen, Claude Cassirer, to recover a painting by Camille Pissarro. Cassirer claims the Nazis in 1939 forced his grandmother to sell them the painting and it passed through several hands before ending up in a Spanish museum.

“The [U.S.] ambassador noted also that while the Odyssey and Cassirer claim were on separate legal tracks,” the cable states, “it was in both governments’ interest to avail themselves of whatever margin for manouevre they had, consistent with their legal obligations, to resolve both matters in a way that favoured the bilateral relationship.”

The Spanish official replied, the cable says, that there were many steps required before any movement on the painting, but that he had recently flown to Washington, in part, to meet with lawyers that Spain retained in the Odyssey case. He expressed “indignation” after a CNN interview where Odyssey CEO Greg Stemm aimed to keep the treasure and return only items of archeological value.

The treasure now sits in a vault warehouse in an undisclosed location. The legal case already went through federal court in Tampa, and now rests in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. However the case is decided, observers expect it to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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