After several years in the Courts, the case of the unprofessional retrieval of a 'treasure' hoard from late Antiquity in Rülzheim in Germany has finally come to an end. The finder was convicted for attempted embezzlement according to § 246 German Penal Code (StGB) for not reporting his finds to the authorities as required under § 965 (2) German Common Law (BGB), thereby illegally withholding the half-share due to the landowner according to § 984 BGB from its rightful owner. The offender was let off with a stern warning, a suspended fine of € 3,000, and a small € 500 fine, payable to the Cathedral in Speyer (which had no involvement in this case whatsoever but was considered to be an 'important monument' by the presiding judge).
The State Heritage Agency for the Rhineland-Palatinate (GDKE-RP) had had high hopes that a much harsher sentence would be passed in this case. It had argued that the offender had committed an illegal excavation and also attempted to illegally embezzle the find from what it considered its rightful owner under the state's Monuments Protection Law, which includes a treasure trove provision. Yet, it failed to convince the Courts that the find actually fell under that treasure trove provision, and thus failed to succeed with its claim. Also, it failed to convince the Courts that the estimates of the value of the find at c. € 500,000, as claimed by its experts, was accurate. As illegal excavation was considered a minor included offence, the Courts did not even pass judgement on the question of whether the actions of the offender had violated the excavation prohibition in the state Monuments Protection Law.
In this article, I assess this case and why it should have been clear from the start that the GDKE-RP's attempt to 'get' a 'looter' for his 'illicit destruction of heritage' by 'borrowing' provisions from economic penal law to achieve a greater deterrent effect on other looters by securing jail time for the offender was bound to fail from the start. As a result, the judgement has had the opposite of the desired effect and turns out to have been a completely avoidable, foreseeable fiasco for archaeological heritage protection.