In a final twist to a five-year legal drama, the Peruvian government today appealed to the US Supreme Court to prevent the return to Spain of mountains of salvaged 19th-century lucre that are sitting in a US air base in Florida, according to The Associated Press.
Spanish military cargo planes had been due tomorrow to fly out of MacDill Air Force Base with 17 tons of treasure, including 594,000 coins, after a federal court last week ordered the Florida shipwreck diving company Odyssey Marine Exploration to hand it over.
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The company removed the booty — valued at a half billion dollars, which would make it the richest sunken treasure ever to be salvaged — from the wreck of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes in 2007 but had repeatedly failed in legal efforts to prevent Spain from claiming it, according to the AP. The wreck was found near Portugal and the Strait of Gibraltar.
The news agency said Peru’s last-ditch appeal, which was directed to Justice Clarence Thomas, called on the US high court to delay the transfer of the treasure while the Peruvian government developed legal arguments in favor of a claim to the booty.
While Peruvian officials did not answer requests for comment, the Peruvian government has claimed in the past the gold in cargo of the Nuestra Señora was mined, refined and minted in Peru, then part of the Spanish empire, according to the AP, which said similar Peruvian claims had been rejected in the past by US courts.
The AP did not indicate whether tomorrow’s scheduled transfer of the treasure would occur but said Justice Thomas did not indicate when he might respond to the Peruvian motion.
The Nuestra Señora was sunk by the British navy in 1804 with 200 hands aboard.