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German shipper jailed by Chinese returns home

Foreign minister in Berlin “relieved” on eve of visit by new Chinese premier

Nils Jennrich

The German art shipper who was jailed for 100 days by Chinese authorities on suspicion of art smuggling has left China, although the legal proceedings against him are still ongoing. Nils Jennrich, the Beijing-based general manager of Integrated Fine Art Solutions, was arrested along with Lydia Chu, the firm’s operations manager in March 2012 after a raid on the freight company and detained in a jail outside Beijing. He was released on bail in August last year but barred from leaving the country.

The arrests, which emerged during last year’s Art HK fair, shocked the art world and were part of a wider crackdown on tax evasion that deterred buyers of Chinese art in 2012.

Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, says in statement that he was “relieved” that Jennrich has been able to leave China, bringing to an end “many months of uncertainty and worry for his friends and family”.

Jennrich's release comes days before Li Keqiang, the new Chinese premier, is due to visit Berlin. Nancy Murphy, a Beijing-based partner at law firm Jingcheng, Tongda & Neal, which represents Jennrich, tells The Art Newspaper that he had been allowed by the Chinese authorities to return to Germany on “humanitarian grounds” as his parents are sick and his fiancé is heavily pregnant. “It is really a diplomatic rather than legal solution,” Murphy says. “The German government has been raising this issue.”

Murphy says that Jennrich had signed a letter agreeing to return to China if required by prosecutors, but it’s not clear by what means Chinese authorities could compel him to return, she adds.

Jennrich was accused of under-reporting the value of art and evading taxes worth more than Y10m ($1.6m), a crime that carries ten years' to life imprisonment in China, Murphy says. A decision on whether to prosecute Jennrich and his colleague is expected within the next two months, she adds.

The German government and the German Embassy in Beijing will continue to monitor the case very closely, the foreign ministry says in a statement.

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