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US opposes penalty for Russia over historic books

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is opposing a Jewish group’s bid to have civil fines levied against Russia for failing to obey a court order to return its historic books and documents, a dispute that has halted the loan of Russian art works for exhibit in the United States.

In a recent court filing, the Justice Department argued that judicial sanctions against Russia in this case would be contrary to US foreign policy interests and inconsistent with US law.

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The Jewish group, Chabad-Lubavitch, based in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, has already convinced Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the US District Court that it has a valid claim to the tens of thousands of religious books and manuscripts, some up to 500 years old, which record the group’s core teachings and traditions.

Lamberth ruled the records are unlawfully possessed by the Russian State Library and the Russian military archive. And in 2010, he ordered the Russian government to turn them over to the US Embassy in Moscow or to the group’s representative.

Russia, which doesn’t recognize the authority of the US court, has refused. It says the collection is part of Russia’s national heritage.

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