France: opens trial of two Americans who stole an original of the 1814 treaty signed by Napoleon

A Paris court on Thursday began a trial of two Americans who stole an original of the 1814 treaty in which Napoleon renounced any claim to rule France, judicial officials said.

John William Rooney and Marshall Lawrence Pierce were charged in connection with the 1988 theft of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, signed by Napoleon, from France's National Archives.

Rooney, a 74-year-old retired college professor, and Pierce, 44, were not on hand for the hearing in a criminal court to face charges of receiving stolen goods, the officials said.

U.S. authorities have not permitted French judicial investigators to question the men, who were convicted and fined in the United States on misdemeanor charges of customs violations in 2003 in the case. They could face up to three years in prison if convicted by the Paris court.

U.S. officials found the treaty as part of an investigation opened in 1996, after Sotheby's auction house told the FBI that Pierce had put the treaty up for sale.

In the treaty, Napoleon renounced any claim to ruling the French empire and agreed to be exiled on the island of Elba.

Rooney visited the National Archives on several occasions in the 1980s and had access to storage areas where the treaty and historical documents were kept.

U.S. officials returned the treaty, along with dozens of original documents from the period, to France in 2002, after the papers were discovered in Pierce's possession during the U.S. investigation, reported AP. P.T.

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