Bellevue Company Loses Court Battle Over $17 Billion in Sunken Treasure

A Bellevue company engaged in a 22-year battle to win its rightful share of a sunken treasure off the coast of Colombia suffered a devastating loss Monday when a federal judge ruled the statute of limitations for its case has expired.

Sea Search Armada has fought the Colombian government for what it considers its rightful share of the booty--valued between $4 and $17 billion--for more than two decades. Under an original agreement, the company was entitled to 35 percent of the treasure. But in the years that followed, Colombia passed a new law that granted Sea Search only five percent. That five percent, in turn, would be cut in half by taxes.

At question is a Spanish ship called the San Jose, which the British navy sank in 1708. The wreck is believed to hold billions in gold, silver, and emeralds.

Even U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg, in the introduction to his ruling, noted the unique nature of the case, saying it "reads like the marriage between a . . . glorious-age-of-sail novel and a . . . potboiler of international intrigue."

The statute of limitations has expired for the breach of contract lawsuit to move forward, Boasberg ruled. Even if the company had won, it would still have had to actually salvage the ship, which remains untouched.

Buried in the court ruling are allegations by Sea Search that the Colombian Government "secretly engaged in a corrupt deal with Swedish businesses to award them a contract to salvage" the ship, and a mysterious mention of "letters exchanged between a U.S. congressman and the Colombian secretary general."

See the court ruling here.

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