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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cincinnati 'Bodies' Exhibit Sponsor Gets Subpoena: Questions About Chinese Corpses In U.S. Museums

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Premier Exhibitions Inc., an Atlanta company whose shares are traded on the NASDAQ exchange, disclosed in a corporate filing that it has been subpoenaed by investigators in the New York attorney general's office. The text of the company's 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is available here at The Daily Bellwether.

Premier, ticker symbol PRXI, operates a touring exhibit called "Bodies," which is now on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. There are concerns the human bodies -- which were retrieved in China -- are of prisoners who were executed by the communist regime. The company's SEC disclosure statement indicates that its procurement of the corpses is the subject of the New York inquiry:

"On February 14, 2008, the Company received a subpoena from the New York Department of Law. The subpoena requires, among other things, that the Company produce documentation related to the production and sourcing of human anatomy specimens that are or have been displayed at the Company's New York City 'Bodies . . . The Exhibition' Exhibit. The Company intends to comply with its legal obligations with respect to this subpoena."

The New York Department of Law is the state attorney general's office, which is headed by Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

Meanwhile, the ABC television network news show "20/20" reported Friday the human remains and cadavers in the exhibit were procured on the Chinese black market. The company disputes the ABC show's assertions.

Premier Exhibitions Inc., clearly does have a profit motive as a publicly traded company. In a Jan. 9, 2008 conference call with Wall Street analysts reporting quarterly financial results, its Chief Financial Office Steve Couture said:

"We had revenues of $16.7 million, which was up from $7.9 million or 111% from our third quarter last yar. The increase in this quarter was primarily due to 10 Bodies exhibtions open at 13 venues in New York, Las Vegas, Prague, Lisbon, Barcelona, San Diego, Branson, Framingham, Buenos Aires, Columbus (Ohio), Washington, D.C., Fort Lauderdale, and Pittsburgh. Our bodies exhibitions contributed approximately $14.5 milion or 87% of our revenue for our third quarter . . ."

Couture resigned Friday, as the SEC filing (above) notes. The company said it was unrelated to the Bodies controversy. In the conference call last month, Premier CEO Bruce Eskowitz told analysts that the company intended to increase its promotional efforts, target students, and sell more merchadise in order to increase profits. Said Eskowitz:

"Number one, we have to build a calendar farther in advance so we can take advantage of better marketing in the company's education department. This is important to driving students to see our exhibitions in higher numbers and getting better advertising rates . . ."

[UPDATE: 9:02 AM -- There is no mention of the subpoena in today's Cincinnati Enquirer, which carried a story about the ABC-TV news report. The Enquirer also published a "guest column" by Cincinnati Museum Center president and CEO Douglass McDonald, who contends the exhibit is educational and inspirational. He does not say anything about making money. A sample: "While doctors and nurses devote years of their lives to training and education in order to understand the human body, the exhibition represents an unprecedented opportunity to view real bones and organs that have previously only been accessible via plastic models. This inside look at the inner workings of the human body offers an experience that cannot be achieved through a textbook, and has inspired young people to consider careers in medicine, life sciences and biotechnology." None of the young people so inspired are identified by the museum chief.]

[UPDATE 2: 9:24 AM -- More detail about the controversy from that includes comment from a Cuomo spokesman that the exhibit is under investigation by the attorney general's office.]

[UPDATE 3: 2:30 PM -- Here's a response (pdf) Premier released in 2006 after a New York Times story appeared about the use of Chinese cadavers that were plasticized for the exhibition. The company said it was obeying all laws.]

[UPDATE 4: 4:12 PM -- Premier now has this posted on the PR Newswire in response to the 20/20 report.]

1 comment:

  1. The 20/20 piece also alleged that Premier, the company behind "Bodies: The Exhibition," may be using the cadavers of executed Chinese prisoners. One photo was particularly appalling, sowing bodies being brought into the plastination warehouse in China with their hands still bound.