13 Nov 2010

Lady Hillary could face charges if auction continues: lawyer

1:58 pm on 13 November 2010

A lawyer who specialises in artefacts says Sir Edmund Hillary's widow could face charges if she allows an auction of the mountaineer's watches to go ahead in Switzerland.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage has told Lady Hillary one of the watches is protected by the Act, and needs to be returned to New Zealand.

The 1953 Rolex Oyster Perpetual was given to Sir Edmund the year he conquered Mt Everest.

The Act makes it an offence to export a protected object from New Zealand, with penalties including a fine of up to $100,000 or up to five years jail.

An associate professor of law at the University of Auckland, Ken Palmer, says there is now a strong onus on Lady Hillary to call off the sale.

"Failing to stop the sale would be sufficient intent for criminal liability," he says, adding she would be unlikely to face charges if she complies with the ministry's request.

Ken Palmer says Lady Hillary would also be impacted by a separate interim injunction on the auction going ahead, brought by Sir Edmund's children.