Roots of democracy sold for US$21mn

NEW YORK, Dec 18, 2007 (AFP) – One of only 17 existing copies of the Magna Carta, an 800-year-old English royal manuscript setting out the rights of man, sold at auction at Sotheby’s in New York Tuesday for 21.3 million dollars. Arguably the most important document ever to be auctioned, the iconic vellum manuscript was bought by David Rubenstein, a US lawyer and founder of the controversial Washington-based private equity firm The Carlyle Group.

Rubenstein, who was a domestic policy advisor to former president Jimmy Carter, said his offices were just 300 meters (yards) from the US National Archives, where the document has been on display for most of the last 23 years.

“I visited this on several occasions and in doing so I thought that the three most important documents in Western civilization were the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” he told reporters.

“I thought it was very important that the Magna Carta stay in the United States and I was concerned that the only copy in the United States might escape as a result of this auction,” Rubenstein added.

He said he would loan the royal charter, which is dated 1297 and bears the wax seal of King Edward I, to the US National Archive