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On March 16 a judge ruled the documents, placed under seal by the French judiciary since 2014 as part of an investigation into a suspected fraud, could be resold. Some could appear at the Drouot by the summer.

Philippe Julien, a lawyer for Adilema, an association representing the interests of 600 Aristophil investors, told ATG the agreement will allow for the controlled resale of all the 135,000 manuscripts across the next decade. “This is not the end, but it might be the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Neuilly-Sur-Seine auctioneer Claude Aguttes will lead the dispersal but Julien believes a range of French and international auctioneers will ultimately be involved.

Last October, Aguttes agreed to assume responsibility for the proper storage and insurance of Aristophil works.

They include treasures such as the will of the doomed Louis XVI, the original 39ft-long manuscript of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, two Surrealist manifestos written by André Breton and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The huge task of sorting the inventory – overseen by 15 members of staff, four experts and a judicial officer who draws up minutes on a daily basis – is under way. Determining the legal owner of each document is key.

Under Aristophil’s controversial investment scheme many documents (those subject to so-called Coralys contracts) were sold in part shares to multiple owners.

First to sell

Around 20,000 items were subject to Amadeus contracts (where documents were fully owned by an individual) while others were the property of Aristophil itself. The Aristophil- owned documents will probably be sold first.

Nearly 18,000 investors had signed contracts totalling €700m before Aristophil and its subsidiaries were declared bankrupt in 2015.

Owner Gérard Lhéritier and five others (including Parisian bookseller Jean-Claude Vrain) have been indicted on charges of organised fraud and tax evasion after the collection was seized.

The investigation continues. Class action groups are also seeking compensation from other sources. Adilema has initiated civil proceedings against the bankers used by the bankrupt company.