A Chinese man who made the winning bid for two bronzes at an auction in Paris has refused to foot the bill for the controversial treasures.
The two sculptures, heads of a rat and a rabbit, were part of the estate of Yves Saint Laurent.
They sold for 15 million euros each ($AU20.3 million) to a telephone bidder during a sale of the late designer\’s art collection at Christie\’s.
But Cai Mingchao, an adviser to a Chinese foundation that seeks to retrieve looted treasures, said no money would change hands for the relics.
China says the sculptures were stolen from Beijing\’s Imperial Summer Palace when it was razed by French and British forces at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860.
Cai told a news conference that his bid was a patriotic act.
“I think any Chinese person would have stood up at that moment,” he explained.
China \’sabotage\’ claim
“It was just that the opportunity came to me. I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities.
“But I must stress that this money I cannot pay.”
Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent\’s longtime partner, said he was sure China had deliberately sabotaged the sale and added he would keep the pieces if Cai doesn\’t pay up.
“I will keep them at home. That\’s where they were, that\’s where they\’ll return and we will continue to live together, them and me,” he told French radio.
Berge had previously offered to hand over the bronzes in return for “China to give human rights, liberty to Tibet and to welcome the Dalai Lama”.
Ken Yeh, the deputy chairman for Christie\’s in Asia, declined comment when reached by Reuters, referring inquiries to the press office, though multiple calls went unanswered.
A spokesman for the French Embassy in Beijing said he had not heard of Monday\’s news conference and could not comment.
Wang Weiming, one of the heads of the foundation, said she was “not sure” if or when the bronzes would return to China.
“These national treasures are probably still in France,” Wang said. “We\’ll have to see how the situation develops.”
Officials have declined to give any more details, saying simply that when they had something to announce, they would announce it.
The foundation, formally called the China Fund for Recovering Cultural Artefacts Lost Overseas, says on its website (www.relicsrecovery.org) that it was set up in 2002 in Beijing by a group of academics and “prominent people”.
Before the auction, France was already the target of Chinese public ire because President Nicolas Sarkozy had met the Dalai Lama, Tibet\’s exiled Buddhist leader.
The contention over the looted bronzes added to that anger.
Some online commentators had said China should not seek to buy the sculptures, as that would add to the insult.