Ruth Mitchell

Member Article

Landmark case for North accountants

NORTH East chartered accountants Straughans has secured a client’s surprise multi-million inheritance of long-lost Holocaust art in a landmark legal victory.

The client, a British man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, found himself at the centre of a £100m Holocaust restitution claim for a substantial collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

The 70-year-old doctor became the executor of his late cousin’s estate - and discovered that she was the heir to the fortune of Vienna Jewish art collector Jenny Steiner, whose collection was confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

He said: “My cousin was married to an Austrian man who had converted to Catholicism, but he was born Jewish. When he died, his mother wanted her daughter-in-law, my cousin, to inherit her assets under Austrian law, so she adopted my cousin. As it turned out, my cousin’s husband was Jenny Steiner’s grandson.”

This link to the Steiner family meant the cousin had a claim to its assets but, however, she only discovered this on her death-bed.

The client said: “It was quite a bombshell. My cousin was in hospital, but she died the day that the news came that she could have a claim to the assets of the Steiner family. I received a phone call completely out of the blue, I’d never heard anything about the family before.”

All such inheritance is normally subject to inheritance taxation of 40%. However, Chartered tax advisor Mike Fleming, of Straughans Chartered Accountants Ltd based in Chester Le Street, was able to negoiate a settlement with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) which saved his client paying millions in tax on the resituted works of art.

Mr Fleming commented: “It’s scandalous really how difficult it has been to deal with Austrian law, and with the galleries which currently hold the paintings. The people who run these galleries know full well where these paintings came from, but they resist giving them back.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Ruth Mitchell .

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