Ethiopian-Americans irked at auction of Haile Selassie watch

Ethiopian-Americans in Denver and other U.S. cities are demanding that a Swiss wristwatch owned by the late Emperor Haile Selassie be returned to his royal descendants.

They’ve been working with Selassie’s grandson to persuade the auction house Christie’s to halt a scheduled sale. Late Monday, Christie’s officials agreed to withdraw the watch, which is valued between $520,000 and $1 million.

Selassie died in 1975 after a Marxist coup in which soldiers plundered his property.

“We are honestly shocked that a prestigious and reputable auction house will want to get involved with the sale of this watch,” said a letter to Christie’s from the Society of Ethiopians in Colorado, home to an estimated 30,000 Ethiopian-Americans.

“He loved this watch so much that he wore it on few occasions until his suspicious death in 1975. All of his property was stolen or confiscated by heartless junior military officers of Communist Ethiopia,” society spokesman Girum Alemayehu said in the letter.

Ethiopian-Americans regard the auctioning of Selassie’s watch with “outrage” because it was seized “without due process of law,” grandson Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie said in an e-mail from Washington D.C.

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