Swiss hand back stolen statue from Crete

The 1.3-metre statue is of great value for Greece's cultural heritage Keystone

Switzerland has returned an ancient Greek statue stolen 16 years ago and recently discovered in the collection of an antiquities dealer.

This content was published on June 14, 2007 - 17:02

The recovery of the 1,900-year-old headless marble sculpture comes as Greece campaigns for the repatriation of illegally exported antiquities.

The Federal Culture Office said the 1.3-metre torso of a young man was loaded on a plane in Zurich bound for Athens, where it arrived on Thursday.

The Culture Office added that Switzerland was implementing measures to combat the illegal transfer of cultural goods.

Switzerland has concluded several agreements on the import and repatriation of cultural heritage with countries including Greece, Italy and Peru.

The Greek culture minister, Giorgos Voulgarakis, said the statue returned had been stolen from the town of Gortyn on the island of Crete. It was traced in March to the Swiss city of Basel.

"Today's event is a result of international cooperation to protect our cultural heritage. More results will be announced soon," Voulgarakis said after the statue was delivered to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

He said the statue would be returned to Crete at a later date.

Elgin marbles

The returned statue, possibly the Greek god Apollo, had been registered as stolen on an international police database. Its location was reported to Interpol in March by an unknown individual, Yves Fischer of the Swiss Federal Culture Office told the Associated Press.

Voulgarakis said the Swiss-based antiquities dealer was persuaded by authorities to surrender the statue and voluntarily drop all claims to it.

Voulgarakis formerly headed a ministry in charge of law enforcement and has stepped up efforts against the rogue antiquities trade since becoming culture minister last year.

Recently returned antiquities include sculptures from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Voulgarakis' campaign coincides with the construction of a museum at the foot of the ancient Acropolis which is due open in early 2008.

The site will be purpose-built to house the Elgin marbles, the Parthenon sculptures on display at the British Museum in London, if returned.

"The new museum will soon be a reality," Voulgarakis said. "We are striving for the marbles to be reunited. It would be a shame for such a museum at such a special site to remain half-empty."

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

In 2005 new legislation came into force bringing Switzerland into line with the 1970 Unesco Convention against cultural goods trafficking.

The law obliges art dealers and auction houses to identify customers and foreign owners of stolen artwork now have 30 years to claim it back.

The Federal Culture Office says Switzerland is among the five biggest art trade hubs, with a market worth SFr1.5 billion ($1.2 billion).

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