government of Bolzano finally agrees to pay €150,000
settlement to Erika Simon (6/15/2009)
At the end of September
2008, the lawyer representing Erika Simon (and Helmut
Simon's estate) announced that the lawsuit between the Simons and the
Bolzano provincial goverment was over. The lawyer stated that a six-figure
(150,000 euros or approximately $208,000 USD) settlement of the
lawsuit would be paid to Erika Simon in a public ceremony by the end of
October 2008. That didn't happen as the provincial government of
Bolzano apparently dragged its feet and resisted the settlement.
On June 15, 2009, however,
government authorities announced that they would pay the €150,000
fee to Erika Simon. Whether this will be done in a public ceremony is
not clear, however.
original lawsuit asked if
the finders of Ötzi should receive money for their discovery? If so,
how much is fair? According to Brenda Fowler in her book Iceman,
Helmut and Erika Simon,
who discovered the Iceman's body in 1991, began to wonder about the possible
financial rewards of their find shortly after it occurred.
They had been home less than a week [after
discovering the Iceman] when
an Innsbruck lawyer called to inform them that he believed they might have
some claim to the corpse. At first, the idea struck them as absurd. It was a
treasure that belonged to all humanity, and they felt honored to have
discovered him. Then again, they thought they should at least inquire. But
first they hired another lawyer to deal with the Innsbruck lawyer (p.
Eventually in January, 2003,
the Simons asked a court in Bolzano,
Italy, to recognize their role in the Iceman's discovery and declare them
the "official discoverers" of the Iceman.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, their lawyer
Rudolf Ramirez said: "My
clients are simple, honest folk, lovers of nature, for whom the discovery was
probably the most eventful moment of their lives."
He continued that his clients would be content "if
only a plaque were to go up with their names."
However, there was speculation that the Simons
wanted more than a monument, perhaps as much as a 6-figure pay day. And if
they won their lawsuit, the
Simons would then be entitled to a finders' fee. According to Italian law, this
fee is the equivalent of 25 percent of the value of the discovered item. If
one considers that Ötzi earns approximately 2.5 million euros a
year (about 3.2 million US dollars) in admission fees alone at the South Tyrol
Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano (and more in photo rights), 25 percent of Ötzi's
value would have been a considerable amount.
Finally, in November, 2003, the Simons were
declared the official finders' of Ötzi. Then began the legal wrangling, for,
the question remained: how would the value of a 5,300-year-old man be
determined? Would it be based on his value as a museum display? Would it be
based on a certain timeframe?
By the end of December, 2003, the
Simons announced the amount of money they wanted: $300,000. They hoped
that officials from the local government
province and from the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology would agree to a settlement.
Instead, government officials appealed the decision.
In October 2005, two other people
claimed to have discovered the Iceman first: Slovenian
actress Magdalena Mohar Jarc and a Swiss woman named Sandra Nemeth.
Jarc claims to have discovered the
Iceman first. She wrote the court that after her discovery,, she went to find
someone to take a photo of the corpse. The people she reportedly found to take
the photo were the Simons who stole the discovery from her.
Nemeth wrote the court that she
found the Iceman before the Simons and that she got into an argument with the
couple about the discovery. Then she spit on Ötzi to make sure that her DNA
would be found on the body, thus verifying her claim.
did not indicate why either Jarc or Nemeth waited so long to come forward. Could
it have something to do with the money involved? The Iceman brings in big bucks,
both to his museum and to the local economy of Bolzano.
Despite the other two claimants'
appeal to the court, in June, 2006, the appeals court ruled that the Simons did indeed discover the
Iceman and were therefore entitled to a finder's fee. What's more, the court
ruled that the provincial
government must also pay the Simons' legal fees. The victory was perhaps
bittersweet, in that Mr. Simon has died in 2004.
Despite the law,
government officials still insisted that they would pay no more than €50,000 (about $65,000). The Simons'
lawyer argued that the Iceman earned a considerable amount of money for the
provincial government both in admissions fees at the museum and in money brought
in from tourism; they believed that they were entitled to a larger sum. Again,
they hoped for some type of settlement.
Although they asked a finder's fee of about $300,000,
their request was apparently reduced after the June, 2006, finding to €150,000 (about
$195,000). However, the provincial government responded that the high expenses it
incurred to establish a museum and maintain the Iceman's preservation should be
considered when determining the finder's fee; therefore, they maintained that a reduced fee
justified. According to one official, "One has to consider that we have
borne all the expense of exploiting the find." Of course, Mrs. Simon saw things differently.
Instead of working
out a settlement, local officials decided in September, 2006, to make one final
appeal, this time to Italy's highest court, the Cassation Court.
On August 26, 2008, the provincial council of Bolzano
apparently offered Erika Simon a settlement
amount of €100,000 (approximately $150,000).
On September 27,
2008, the lawyer for Helmut Simon's estate announced that a payment for a
six-figure sum would be made by the end of October 2008.
On June 15, 2009,
Bolzano government authorities announced that they would pay €150,000 as
compensation for the discovery of the Iceman.