A couple who found gold bars buried in the garden of a property they purchased must compensate the former owners.
In a bizarre case that was recently heard in the French courts, a couple purchased a house in the small town of Roanne near Lyon, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
Between 2009 and 2013 they unearthed 28 gold bars from the garden, at an estimated value of €800,000.
Over several years they sold 23 of the bars, a level of activity which attracted the attention of the French anti-money laundering agency, Tracfin.
As part of their enquiries into the matter, Tracfin contacted the family of the former owners of the property, a widow and eight children, who had inherited the property from their parents.
Alerted by the authorities about the gold, the family decided to bring a legal action for recovery of their property.
In court, the widow explained that the bars belonged to the parents of her deceased husband, and recounted how her husband had found two bars before they sold the house in 2002. She also produced purchase certificates of gold bars, although not those that they had previously recovered. She considered that by right of succession the bars found by the new owners belonged to her.
In their defence the couple stated that when they had found the bars they had alerted the mayor, the police and the Bank of France, who all told them that they could keep the haul, although none were willing to state as such in writing.
The court ruled that the couple were obliged to return the 5 gold bars that remained in their possession, and to pay compensation of €642,000, equivalent the to value of the bars that had been sold.
In their ruling the judges stated that “he who discovers, by pure chance, something hidden or buried, is necessarily aware, at the moment of discovery, that he is not the owner of that thing.”
In effect, the find could not be considered 'treasure trove', and therefore the property of the finder, as owners of the property could be found.