News and Press Releases

1919 Turcat-Mery, a “National Monument” of France, was Illegally Exported

February 11, 2009

A rare 1919 Turcat-Mery roadster, once owned by a descendant of French Monarch Louis XVI, will be shipped home to France where it has been declared a “National Monument.” The roadster was illegally exported from France, and is being returned to France under a settlement negotiated by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. The current owner of the car, Charles Morse of Seattle, Washington, has agreed to transport the car back to France and has agreed to keep it in France or sell it to someone who will keep the Turcat-Mery in France. Due to the importance of the vehicle in French cultural history, Mr. Morse wanted to amicably resolve the case, according to settlement documents filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

In late December 2008, the United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint for the vehicle, with its final objective being to facilitate its return to France. As part of the settlement of the civil forfeiture case, the Turcat-Mery will be shipped home on the earliest possible flight, possibly as soon as late Thursday evening February 12, 2009. News photographers wishing to get pictures of the vehicle being loaded onto the plane at Sea-Tac airport, please see contact info at the close of this release.

According to filings in the case, the roadster was built specifically for the “Duc de Monpensier,” a descendant of the “Orleans” branch of the Bourbon Dynasty that ruled France during most of the period from 1589-1848. The car was stored at the Castle of Randan, and in 1991, the French government declared the Chateau at Randan, and all of the goods stored there, French Historic Monuments -- goods of public historic interest forming a unique ensemble in France. French law does not allow goods classified as Historic Monuments to be removed from France.

Since 1997, the Turcat-Mery was sold twice, and the owners were informed that the car could not be removed from France. Nevertheless, in July 2004, a seller of classic cars exported the roadster to the Netherlands. The car was then sold and delivered to Mr. Morse.
“This investigation proved that the 1919 roadster is much more than just an antique vehicle,” said Leigh Winchell, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Investigations in Seattle. “It is a historical monument and its removal from France was illegal. ICE will continue to work closely with foreign governments to ensure that a country’s heritage is not for sale to the highest bidder.”

In resolving the case, Mr. Morse does not admit any wrongdoing and agrees to pay the costs of returning the vehicle to France. Both sides will pay their own attorneys fees. Mr. Morse agrees to keep the vehicle in France and will explicitly inform any potential buyer that the vehicle must remain in France. If any of the terms of this agreement are violated, Mr. Morse will forfeit the vehicle, or the value of the vehicle to the U.S. government. The value of the Turcat-Mery is estimated at nearly $1 million.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Port of Seattle Police Department. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) assisted in the case. The case was litigated by Assistant United States Attorney Richard E. Cohen.

News crews interested in photographing the car loading should contact Mike Milne (CBP) at (206) 553-6944, x614, or cell (206) 818-7674. Depending on space available, the car could be shipped either Thursday evening just before midnight February 12, 2009, or Monday February 16, 2009, from the Cargolux Transiplex location, 2345 S. 156th, at the north end of Sea-Tac Airport. The bonded warehouse is reached via the Air Cargo Road exit. Mike Milne (CBP) and/or Lorie Dankers (ICE) will be available at the shipping location to escort news crews. For file photos of the Turcat-Mery, contact Lorie Dankers at (206) 553-0353 or cell (206)793-8755.

For additional information on the legal aspects of the case please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or at Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

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