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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Klimt art row goes to arbitration
Maria Altmann in front of a reproduction of a Gustav Klimt portrait of her aunt, which she claims from Austria
Maria Altmann lives in the US
A woman seeking to reclaim $150m (81.7m) of Gustav Klimt paintings looted by Nazis is to enter arbitration with the Austrian government.

Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann, 89, has been fighting for the return of the six paintings for nearly seven years.

Ms Altmann recently received $21.9m (11.9m) from a Swiss bank fund set up to compensate heirs of Nazi victims.

Her Austrian relatives had their savings plundered from a Swiss bank by the Nazis in World War II.

Ms Altmann, who lives in the US, has now agreed to enter binding mediation for the return of the Klimt paintings, one of which depicts her aunt.

She was originally granted permission to sue the Austrian government by the US Supreme Court, which rejected Austria's claim of sovereign immunity.

'Good feeling'

The legal action has now been put off while arbitration takes place.

"I am feeling very good about the whole thing because it was dragging on and dragging on," Ms Altmann said.

"We are finally seeing an end, and I hope a happy end. I am very pleased that things can be solved in a friendly and peaceful way."

Martin Weiss, Counsel General for Austria, said: "There are a lot of happy faces around the table today. It's an agreement all sides can view as fair."

The paintings were looted from the wealthy Altmann family shortly after the Nazis annexed Austria.

The Klimt paintings currently hang in the Austrian Gallery.

Austria believes it is entitled to the paintings because Ms Altmann's aunt, who died in 1925, had specified they should be donated to the national gallery.

But Ms Altmann's uncle, who died in exile in 1945, wanted them to go to his family.

Arbitration is expected to begin as early as June.

US ruling over 'looted' Nazi art
08 Jun 04 |  Americas
Swiss wind up Holocaust fund
03 May 02 |  Europe
Swiss Nazi row ends in US court
26 Jul 00 |  Europe

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