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Spain demands return of $500 million treasure

/ Source: The Associated Press

Spain is demanding a U.S. deep-sea exploration firm turn over the entire $500 million treasure it salvaged from a shipwreck, saying Thursday it has determined the vessel is definitely Spanish.

James Goold, a Washington-based lawyer who represents the Spanish government, said the 19th-century shipwreck at the heart of a dispute with Odyssey Marine Exploration is without a doubt the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes — a Spanish frigate sunk by a British warship southwest of Portugal in 1804.

He said the Spanish government has presented evidence to back up its claim to a U.S. federal judge hearing the case in Tampa, Florida, where Odyssey is based.

Spain also argues the entire treasure should be returned as it was never really abandoned.

Odyssey announced in May 2007 it had discovered the wreck in the Atlantic and raised 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts worth an estimated $500 million. The booty was flown back to Tampa.

Spain went to the U.S. federal court claiming ownership of the treasure if it turned out to be connected to the country's national heritage.

Goold said at a news conference Thursday that Spain's evidence proved the ship and cargo were definitely Spanish property.

Odyssey had sought to kept private its information on the ship, including its identity. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo last month insisted, however, that the company turn over its information, and Odyssey said the ship was probably the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.

Odyssey officials have said they believe the court will award them the majority of the treasure, as it was found by Odyssey. A call Thursday to an Odyssey spokeswoman was not immediately returned.