Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Fresh Report on Chalkidiki Antiquities Bust

In Greece, archaeologists of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism have begun the scientific documentation of the confiscated ancient artefacts seized in the antiquities bust on the 4th and 5th of March which have been transported to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.
The majority of the coins comes from the broader Northern Greece region and dates back from the Byzantine era to the 5th century BC. Among the coins, several silver coins have also been found, mostly tetradrachms from the 4th century BC, cut by the Chalkidian Alliance and Phillipos II. Other small objects confiscated include bronze votive idols and jewelry, such as necklaces, rings, clasps and pins, most probably looted through illegal excavations on graves. Three golden mouthpieces of the 6th century BC stand out amidst the overall findings of the police research. Some of the findings were counterfeits, as announced by the experts, including a copy of a marble Cycladic idol and a small sculpture representing the Venus de Milo.
Well you read it first here that some of the objects were fakes (the mini Venus de Milo copy was not very clear in the original photos). Also seized were metal detectors and books related to coin identification and large sums of money. The men were armed, and Greek authorities point out that the successful arrests were due to the collaboration of the local Police Departments with the Special Violent Crime Squad. A number of firearms were also reportedly confiscated. The 44 men arrested are reportedly now facing serious charges.
They are Greek nationals who were setting up “businesses” in 13 prefectures of Macedonia, Thessaly and Central Greece and were particularly active in the cities of Thessaloniki, Chalkidiki, Kilkis, Pella, Imathia, Pieria, Serres, Drama, Kavala, Karditsa, Larisa, Trikala, Fthiotida. The police are aware of how the suspects worked, as well as what everyone’s particular function in the ring was. [...] Bulgaria, Germany, Switzerland and England were some of the primary business destinations, according to the police that discovered repeated money transfers to the suspect’s account.
Let us hope those money transfers will help police identify the individuals buying unlawfully exported antiquities from Greece. According to police information, the “middle-man” would either personally take the antiquities to foreign buyers "or sent the items via transporting companies, though in small envelopes, so as not to [attract suspicion]".

The investigations started 'six months ago' (so September 2011) and it would be interesting to know whether they were precipitated by the interception of a package of antiquities (and whether they were outgoing from Greece, or incoming in the 'market country') or whether the authorities had been tipped off by a foreign dealer approached by "Mr X" to become part of his 'network" and whose code of ethics required him to report all such contacts to the relevant authorities (in which case what was the ratio between number of ethical dealers approached reporting him, to the number of unethical dealers who dealt with him?).

The paid lobbyist of the coin dealers' associations Peter Tompa may wish to present this antiquities bust as a mere "diversion", but it certainly raises a number of questions about the current form of the international market in dugup ancient coins. Questions no doubt his dealer clients would prefer not be asked. That is presumably why they pay him and the Washington firm Bailey and Ehrenberg to provide constant diversions through his Cultural Property Observer blog and other activities. I wonder if further police investigations will reveal whether any PNG or ACCG member dealers were in Mr X's "network"? Given the association of these groups with the ongoing fight against restrictions on the movement of unlawfully exported coins (including from Greece into the USA), I certainly hope this is a line of enquiry the Greek police pursue.

Source: Stella Tsolakidou, 'Counting of Looted Antiquities Complete' Greek Reporter March 6, 2012

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