Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Greek Cypriot antiquities smuggling; illegal undercover antiquities police

The Agence France-Presse (AFP) has reported the arrest of what the Republic of Cyprus categorised as the 'largest ever antiquities smuggling ring' in Cyprus; and it's very probably Greek Cypriot. And it involves yet more potentially illegal undercover antiquities police activity.

(I found the AFP article in the Straits Times via a Museum Security Network link (while Ünal Başusta has reproduced the article on Heritage Thieves); and I found an apparent BBC rewrite of the AFP article via Derek Fincham's Illicit Cultural Property blog.)

Menelaos Hadjicostis reported ten Cypriots arrested, and one Syrian and four unknown others wanted, for 'illegally possessing and trading in [dozens of] antiquities' within Cyprus (1).

[10.55am update: the Cyprus Mail's Sebastian Heller confirmed the Cyprus Weekly's original claim that one of the arrested was a former/retired police officer.]

The Cyprus Weekly noted the discovery of a Beretta handgun/pistol and hoods. [2.30pm update: Heller also listed excavation tools, archaeology books and antiquities catalogues, which obviously recorded the antiquities' 'estimated market value'.]

[2.30pm, 30th January 2010 update: the Cyprus Mail has reported the arrest of a (presumably, Greek Cypriot) '30-year-old from Limassol' for 'conspiracy in a felony, illegal possession and smuggling of antiquities and illegal possession of a gun'.]

The Unknown Buyer, or the private collector of illicit antiquities

Police refused to name the 'buyer' (Hadjicostis, 2010), which implies that the police knew which one private collector was to receive all of these stolen goods.

Antiquities department acting director Maria Hadjicosti had observed that '[m]ost of the artifacts are urns primarily found around the southern coastal towns'. However, Communications Minister Nikos Nikolaides claimed that 'some' of the artefacts 'may' be from northern Cyprus (Hadjicostis, 2010). (Some of the illicit antiquities are foreign.)

If we accept the archaeologist's opinion on archaeology rather than the communications expert's, most of the antiquities were looted in Greek Cypriot areas (and thus, probably by Greek Cypriots); and as far as I know, all of the major antiquities collectors in Cyprus are Greek Cypriot.

Greek Cypriot police consider it possible that this Cypriot smuggling ring is part of a 'wider international smuggling network'; but even if it is, this local Cypriot looting and smuggling may be a greater crime than some of the notorious Turkish gangs' plunder of the island.

[2.30pm update: the smuggling ring at least had 'international connections', as its 'middlem[a]n, [was] a Greek national' (Heller, 2010).]

Illegal undercover antiquities police activity

It was a joint Greek Cypriot and Greek police operation (with the help of the British Sovereign Bases). Communications Minister Nikolaides 'wouldn't provide details' about the Greek police 'help' (Hadjicostis, 2010); and that may be because the operation was conducted after a 'Greek undercover policeman' was offered 'treasure for sale in Cyprus' (AFP, 2010).

As I explained in my blog post on Death and Denial: Stephanos Stephanou and the Syriac Bible, undercover antiquities police work is illegal in Cyprus (Hardy, 2009; see also Theodoulou, 2008). Greece may have broken Cypriot law; or the Republic of Cyprus may have broken its own laws.

Buying looted antiquities: funding looting; funding paramilitary violence

Furthermore, if either administration bought illicit antiquities during the operation, it will have funded the looting process; and if the arrested are part of an international criminal gang, the Greek and/or Greek Cypriot administration(s) may also have funded the Turkish paramilitaries that dominate the Cypriot illicit antiquities trade (Hardy, 2009).

In other news...

I thought making my links automatically open in a new tab was helpful, but apparently it's poor netiquette, so I've stopped.
  1. Various reports put the value of the antiquities between €11 and 11.5 million, or $15.5 and 22.8 million.
Bibliography

AFP (Agence France-Presse). 2010: "Smuggling network busted". The Straits Times, 25th January. Available at: http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/World/Story/STIStory_481900.html

Başusta, Ü. 2010: "Cyprus smuggling network busted". Heritage Thieves, 25th January. Available at: http://heritagethieves.blogspot.com/2010/01/cyprus-smuggling-network-busted.html

BBC. 2010: "Cyprus antiquities smuggling ring broken up". BBC News, 25th January. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8478886.stm

Cyprus Mail. 2010: "New arrest in antiquities smuggling case". The Cyprus Mail, 30th January. Available at: http://www.cyprus-mail.com/cyprus/new-arrest-antiquities-smuggling-case/20100130

Cyprus Weekly. 2010: "Antiquities smuggling ring busted". Cyprus Weekly, 25th January. Available at: http://www.cyprusweekly.com.cy/main/92,1,283,0,5342-.aspx

Fincham, D. 2010: "Cyprus antiquities smugglers discovered". Illicit Cultural Property [weblog], 25th January. Available at: http://illicit-cultural-property.blogspot.com/2010/01/cyprus-antiquities-smugglers-discovered.html

Hadjicostis, M. 2010: "Police bust massive antiquities smuggling ring". Discovery News, 25th January. Available at: http://news.discovery.com/archaeology/ancient-artifacts-theft-smuggling.html

[Also known as: Hadjicostis, M. 2010: "Cyprus police prevent smugglers from selling ancient artifacts for millions". Yahoo! Canada News, 25th January. Available at: http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/100125/world/eu_cyprus_antiquities_theft_1]

Hardy, S A. 2009: "Death and denial: Stephanos Stephanou and the Syriac Bible". Human Rights Archaeology [weblog], 17th March. Available at: http://human-rights-archaeology.blogspot.com/2009/03/death-and-denial-stephanos-stephanou.html

Heller, S. 2010: "Police smash antiquities smuggling ring". Cyprus Mail, 26th January. Available at: http://www.cyprus-mail.com/cyprus/police-smash-antiquities-smuggling-ring/20100126

Museum Security Network. 2010: "CYPRUS authorities said on Monday they had uncovered the island’s largest ever antiquities smuggling ring trying to sell stolen artefacts for 11.5 million euros (S$22.8 million)". Museum Security Network, 25th January. Available at: http://www.museum-security.org/?p=3484

Theodoulou, J. 2008: "Parliament unimpressed by police bid for undercover powers". Cyprus Mail, 11th April. Available at: http://www.cyprus-mail.com/news/main.php?id=38634&archive=1

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