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German federal and regional authorities plan to step up research into 'Nazi art trove' heirs
File photo dated September 18, 2008 showing German artist Otto Mueller's painting "Boy in front of two girls standing and one seated" (1919) owned by Ismar Littmann, on display at the "Looting and Restitution" ("Raub und Restitution") exhibition at Berlin's Jewish Museum. The exhibition, which runs from September 19, 2008 to January 25, 2009, details the looting of Jewish art collections and household objects by the Nazi regime before and during the Second World War, and the various institutions put in place to find and return the looted goods. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL.

BERLIN (AFP).- The German government said Monday it plans to speed up research into the rightful ownership of recently unearthed artworks looted by the Nazis, amid mounting calls for a full online list.

Federal and regional authorities involved in shedding light on the vast trove of artworks, including masterpieces by Picasso and Matisse, held talks on Friday, the government's spokesman said.

Representatives from the culture and finance ministries and the southern state of Bavaria agreed they "want to advance considerably faster the research into the origins of the artworks from this collection", Steffen Seibert told reporters.

"We want that works with an unclear history of acquisition... in consideration of the legal aspects of the ongoing investigation process, are immediately published," he said.

"We will announce further details on the procedure this week."

The head of the World Jewish Congress on Monday added his voice to calls for an inventory of the artworks to be published on the Internet.

Ronald S. Lauder told Die Welt daily that time was of the essence with possible heirs now elderly and that "injustice" would continue as long as clarity was lacking.

"The German government must show these pictures," he told the newspaper.

"Valuable time has been wasted. Neither the possible claimants nor possible witnesses in the return process are getting any younger," Lauder said.

"Injustice will not be removed but continued so long as there is no clarity created about the owners."

And he warned that if nothing happened "we will raise the pressure".

Despite international calls, German prosecutors have refused to publish a full inventory of the works, citing a need for more time to fully catalogue them and for discretion in their probe.

They have launched an investigation on charges of tax evasion and misappropriation of assets against Cornelius Gurlitt, in whose Munich apartment the more than 1,400 works including paintings by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri Matisse were found in February 2012.

The case only came to light last week in a magazine report.

Gurlitt is the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a powerful Nazi-era art dealer and collector who acquired the paintings in the 1930s and 1940s.

Hildebrand Gurlitt had been tasked by the Nazis with selling works looted from Jewish collectors or seized as part of a crackdown on avant-garde, or what the Nazis termed "degenerate" art, in exchange for hard currency.

Seibert said the German government understood that the art haul had prompted many questions among Jewish organisations, who represent elderly victims wanting swift answers.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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