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Seized violin becomes political hot potato

The German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble is reported to have ordered the release of a Stradivarius seized by Frankfurt airport customs officials from the Dresden concertmaster Yuki Manuela Janke.

The violin belongs to the Nippon Foundation and is on loan to Ms Janke, a German citizen, who carried full documentation for it. The seizure – the second this month from a traveller of Japanese origin – has provoked international disquiet among musicians and foreign media over inconsistencies at German entry points.

The customs department has refused to comment on the latest reports.

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  1. The “hot potatoe”, however, is not that Schäuble ordered the release, but the fact that customs officers have sued him for giving that order, claiming it was unlawful and a special treatment that helped to evade justified taxes.

    • And I forgot to add: again, this article is misleading, while it describes how foreigners visiting a country are exempt from taxes for items they bring with them, while the actual cases are about people returning to their countries of residence, thus having to pay import sales taxes on items they aquired abroad. Two totally different things.

    • I think that Bild story has since been denied.

      • It has neither been confirmed nor explicizly denied, yet. But there is indeed a chance the story has been made up. But now, after other papers have picked up the story, I think the case will get some publicity.

  2. The fact that she is a German citizen should be imaterial to this story. The item is owned by a Japanese National Company and lent by said company to the musician. Therefore, the articles permanent place of residence is Japan and not Germany. Any sales taxes due would have been paid by the corporation at the time of purchase. If the corporation were to sell the violin, then taxes would be paid at the time of that transaction to the Country where the instrument would go.

    If German customs continues to seize instruments like this which have documentation and refuse to return them, then German instrumentalists traveling to Japan may face a similar situation.

    In the aggregate, really ridiculous.

  3. James Brinton says:

    Apparently the customs people don’t recognize that ownership still resides with the Foundation. That violin is not personal property, did not change hands, and no taxes should be due.

  4. Bob Thomas says:

    How can a violinist using an instrument on loan be said to have “acquired” the instrument? Doesn’t the word “acquire” imply — or even stronger than that — ownership of the item in question?

  5. I wonder if it isn’t time for string players – perhaps Japanese nationals in particular? – to avoid German airports altogether and fly into Amsterdam or Brussels and take the train the rest of the way.

    It shouldn’t have to be that way, obviously, but …

  6. Nandor Szederkenyi says:

    I am more and more amazed since I follow these stories!
    Back to the old dark days, when we were not allowed to travel to the west (from Hungary) I was already traveling, and of course always with my violin.
    I am not a “star-violinist”, have a violin with value of only few hundred thousand euros (however I own it because I would hate to play a fiddle that belongs to someone else) and I’ve crossed borders in my life at least a few hundred times. But never ever heard or seen of such horror stories. Not at the old Hungarian borders, and not today at any airports.
    I only know that I am already nervous because I have to fly via Frankfurt very soon!

    It’s hard to believe that customs officers are stubborn in such a “high grade” like they are in Frankfurt. It sounds like they have never seen musicians with instruments going through the “green door”! I am sure, since the beginning of Ms. Horigome’s story, there were hundreds of violinists traveling via Frankfurt. Why only two were held and taken their violins away? And why these coincidently happened to two violinists with very valuable instruments, coincidently with Japanese background??

    I hope very much that Mr. Schäuble will investigate in Frankfurt instead of letting the customs to sue him.

  7. I’m of course happy the violin is back in the hands of the violinist.

    Nevertheless, if the FAZ article linked to in this blogost is right, Ms. Janke could have avoided all the trouble simply by chosing the “red channel” at customs and properly declaring the instrument. Why didn’t she do this?

    For me the story looks like this: The customs officers simply did their job. Ms. Janke was either careless or simply did’nt know about the legal aspects of travelling with an item worth 1.5m – then it’s the Nippon Foundation’s fault, they should have told her.

    • the german custom law also says, if you take the red channel you still might have to deposit a sum as security, which you get back once you leave the country again and have not sold the violin. In this case it would be probably 19 % of 6 million. No musician nor foundation could provide this, and therefore it s still not so easy as “just take the red channel and all is fine”.

  8. Not necessarily: As you can read in the FAZ article: “In solchen Fällen können Reisende, die sündhaft teure Musikinstrumente gewerblich nutzen, eine „vorübergehende Verwendung“ anführen – und sind dann von der Steuerpflicht befreit. Das gleiche gilt für Ausstellungsstücke auf Messen oder Formel-1-Autos, welche die ganze Welt befliegen.” – “In such cases, travellers who use their extremely expensive instruments professionally can declare ‘temporary use’ and are thus exempt of taxation. The same applies for exhibits at trade fairs or Formula 1-cars which fly over the whole world” (my translation, please excuse deficits).

    Or do you believe any European gallery organising a temporary exposition with works form non-EU countries pay a 19% deposit for Botticellis, van Goghs and Picassos? And they certainly do not smuggle the works through the green exit.

    • Sorry, this should refer to the above comment by Linus Roth. Seems I forgot to use the “reply”-button.

      • Simon, sure it probably never happens that somebody has to put down a deposit, But if you not only read the FAZ but also the customs LAW, then, if the customs officer wants to, it is his right to ask for a deposit!

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