San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Art Thieves

Spanish court acquits Tico accused of smuggling pre-Columbian art

A criminal court in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, acquitted Costa Rican Leonardo Augusto Patterson, 70, for the crime of art smuggling, after he moved from that city 1,400 pieces of pre-Hispanic art to Germany in 2008 without a permit from the Culture Ministry, the Spanish daily El País reported Tuesday.

The prosecution had requested a conviction of two years in prison and the payment of a €28 million ($38.2 million) fine.

But Judge María Elena Fernández Currás said that according to Spanish law, “the smuggling offense punishes those who, without authorization, take Spanish heritage out of Spanish territory.” Patterson was acquitted because the pieces do not belong to Spain but to various Latin American countries.

The objects known as the “Patterson Collection” were exhibited with great success in Santiago between 1996-1997 in exhibitions visited by regional leaders including Costa Rica’s ex-President Óscar Arias and Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, El País stated.

Since then the collection had been kept in a warehouse in Spain until 2008, when Patterson ordered the collection transferred to Munich, the German city where he lives.

Judge Fernández’s ruling, however, corroborated the evidence of “illegal trafficking of cultural goods from pre-Hispanic origin,” which, under international agreements, could lead to the return of the pieces to their respective countries of origin.

Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru and other countries in the region have already initiated legal actions to claim pieces of the collection.

Patterson served as adviser of Costa Rica’s diplomatic mission at the United Nations from November 1994 to January 1995, during José María Figueres Olsen’s administration, and his diplomatic credentials were renewed in 1998 during Miguel Ángel Rodríguez’s administration, in spite of not being appointed to any official post.

A report from Stanford University states that he began trading pre-Columbian art in New York in 1960.

Contact L. Arias at

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