An Uruguayan Court of Appeals has ruled the Government needs to sell the bronze eagle retrieved from the wreckage of the 3rd Reich's Admiral Graf Spee off the Montevideo coast.
The brother's Alfredo and Felipe Etchegaray had signed an agreement whereby they afforded all the costs of the diving missions around the doomed German warship. That contract provided for some form of reward for the Echegaray's, who brought the case to the courts since the Uruguayan authorities never made good on their part of the deal.
The latest court ruling mandates that the Uruguayan State sells the eagle to afford the reward due to the divers.
German Kreigsmarine Captain Hans Langsdorff sank his ship in December of 1939 at the beginning of World War II to avoid a fight with a Royal Navy fleet which would have resulted in further casualties for his crew, but he needed to take other measures so that the British could not get hold of the military technological improvements the Graf Spee had. After making sure his crew was transferred safely to Buenos Aires, Langsdorff blew up the battleship and committed suicide days later at the Argentine capital. The Etchegaray brothers managed to retrieve both the eagle and the rangefinder -one of the technological improvements aboard- in 2006.
A lower court had ruled in 2019 that Uruguay should “dispose” of the ship's adornment in an onerous manner to pay the Echegaray brothers what was due to them. That ruling has been now upheld by the Court of Appeals, which said the State must put the eagle and the rangefinder up for sale either through an option or by abiding by the Uruguayan Government's TOCAF mechanism which governs purchases and contracts by state agencies.
The proceeding of that sale should be shared by the two Etchegaray brothers. Alfredo Etchegaray has explained they had filed the lawsuit against the Uruguayan state “after obtaining the corresponding permits for the search and rescue of the items.”
The search for the Graf Spee's eagle was complex due to both the depth and the adverse conditions where lays, despite which the Etchegaray brothers achieved their feat. They had signed a contract in 2004. That same year they managed to remove the ship's rangefinder and two years later the team found the eagle on the bow, weighing more than 300 kilos and with a swastika carved at the feet of the bird. “Once the eagle and the rangefinder were taken out of the water, problems began [together with] the state's refusal to fulfill its part of the contract,” he added.
The new sentence can already be executed, even though an additional appeal can still be filed before the Supreme Court
Defense Minister Javier García said that whatever the outcome of the legal clash, the Uruguayan State will guarantee that this symbol, which represents a part of the blackest history of humanity,” does not serve for publicity or worship.
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