Greece blocks sale of disputed icons in Britain, Netherlands

16th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Greek officials have blocked the sale of a dozen religious icons by two art galleries in Britain and the Netherlands after finding the items had been stolen years ago, a police source said on Wednesday.

The icons that date from before the 18th century and could each fetch from 5,000 to 15,000 euros ($7,000-21,000) had been pilfered from unguarded monasteries and churches in the sparsely-populated region of Epirus in northwestern Greece.

Greece's antiquities theft squad tracked six of them to each of the galleries, the police source told AFP without giving further details.

Kathimerini daily, which broke the story on Wednesday, was told by Epirus governor Alexandros Kachrimanis that the icons were identifed thanks to an electronic database of treasures stolen from the area compiled in 2009.

Around 40 icons have been looted in recent years from Greek churches and monasteries, many in remote areas or atop mountains, hours from the nearest police station.

A large number of thefts, blamed by police on organised traffickers, occurred in the central Greek region of Volos some three years ago.

Athens has in recent years stepped up efforts to reclaim ancient and cultural heritage items that have been illegally removed from the country.

Earlier this decade it succeeded in claims from the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Shelby White collection in New York.

But Greece's greatest goal, the return of a large collection of sculptures from the Parthenon removed by Lord Elgin, the 19th century British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire occupying Greece at the time, remains elusive.

The British Museum which obtained the Parthenon Marbles from Elgin has refused to return them despite decades of Greek pressure.

© 2011 AFP

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