Japanese owner of Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' sued

A Japanese insurance giant has been sued by heirs of the former owner of a painting from Vincent Van Gogh's famed "Sunflowers" series.

Sompo Holdings owns the masterpiece through one of its predecessors. The US lawsuit seeks the return of the work and about 750 million dollars in damages.

The three heirs claim the Nazis forced the former German banker who owned the painting to sell it in 1934 because he was Jewish. In a suit filed in the US, they argue that the Japanese firm unjustifiably gained commercial profit by acquiring the work despite knowing its provenance.

A predecessor of Sompo Holdings, Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance, purchased the painting in 1987 for about 40 million dollars, a record for a painting at the time.

Sompo Holdings said it has yet to receive the complaint. The insurer also said that it was purchased legitimately through an auction 35 years ago and there is no room for doubt over its ownership.