The most complete collection of coins of the Al-Andalus period (Muslim Spain), the Tonegawa Collection, is well known in the numismatic world, and experts consider it to be one of the best. The collection will be sold at auction in Barcelona on 15 February, and in case of foreign acquisition, as El País points out, it could leave Spain unless the Ministry of Culture declares it non-exportable without obtaining the qualification of BIC (Asset of Cultural Interest). “Neither the Ministry of Culture nor the community of Madrid, where the collection was kept before being transferred to Barcelona for auction, have taken steps to ensure that this does not happen”. The newspaper mentions the director of our law firm, Antonio Pedro Rodríguez Bernal, professor of the Master’s Degree in Cultural Heritage at the Carlos III University of Madrid, who affirms that both institutions are “right to a certain point. The government can declare a cultural asset non-exportable without the status of BIC, but that obliges the Autonomous Community to proceed immediately by opening a dossier as an asset of cultural interest to justify it. The owner cannot remain indefinitely in a legal vacuum. In addition, if an asset has already been declared BIC, it automatically becomes a non-exportable status.
These same sources maintain that “it would be an enormous loss for the national heritage, because it is a very high quality collection with several unicum [pieces without equal in the world] that make it very special”. The Ministry of Culture explains that the collection is not classified as non-exportable because the auction has not yet been held, there is no request to take it out of the country and the collection has not been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC) by the autonomous community where it is located (which would automatically confer this protection), and it is up to the autonomous community to decide. “But we are very attentive to what might happen…”, they add.
Meanwhile, the Community of Madrid assures that “the Ministry of Culture can indeed make it non-exportable without being BIC, if it considers that it is very important”. “Then”, they continue, “it would have to ask the corresponding autonomous community to declare it BIC, informing the owner at the beginning of the procedure”. The Community of Madrid argues that they do not even know who the owner of the collection is.
The experts consulted have no idea who is the owner of the Tonegawa Collection. It could be an investor, a collectionist or a family of Asian origin. They are not even sure if it belongs to a family with a Japanese surname. “This is like the well-known Caballero de Yndias Collection [a numismatic collection of medieval and modern gold coins], supposedly created by a Basque family based in Cuba and auctioned in 2009. Nobody knows who is behind it, because the auction houses have agreements of confidentiality,” they say. Meanwhile, the people responsible for the collection have not responded to the information requested by this newspaper.