April 16, 2014

Cyprus: Antiquities bust in Aphrodite’s city

Hoard found in Mr. X's house (Photo from Alithia Online)
by Christiana O'Connell-Schizas

On Thursday, February 27th, a 58-year old Cypriot man (Mr X) was arrested in Cyprus for illegal possession of ancient artefacts. The Paphos CID detectives, acting on a tip, raided Mr X’s house in Peyia where they found [1]: 58 amphorae, 20 golden artefacts and six bayonets from the Hellenistic period (323-31BC).  These items were confiscated, along with five firearms dating to the early 20th century, a Russian AK-47, a metal detector, coins, jewellery, gold chalices and €9.411 in cash. Mr. X could not provide convincing explanations as to the provenance of any of the objects.[2] The Department of Antiquities is inspecting the artefacts collected as evidence from Mr X's house in anticipation of his trial before the Paphos District Court.

Another view of Mr. X's stash
According to Cypriot Antiquity Law, any antiquity that remains undiscovered as of 1935 is the property of the Government. Antiquities accidentally discovered by unlicensed persons (whether found on their land or not) must be delivered to the mukhtar or other authorised persons, such as the police or a museum. To be in compliance for the law, Mr. X would have had to acquire the item before 1935 and have registered it with the Director of Antiquities by 1 January 1974.[3] In practice today, chance finders are often granted a license to possess (and sell) antiquities so long as the Department of Antiquities does not want them. Following Mr X's arrest on suspicion of illegal possession of antiquities, it is not clear whether or not he approached such authorities, whether he knew or reasonably believed the antiquities to be illicitly excavated, or whether he may have dug them up himself. If this is the case, the court will most likely confiscate the artefacts and deliver them to the Director of Antiquities. Mr X could face imprisonment up to three years and/or a fine.

Blank form to operate metal detector
Any person in possession of a metal detector must complete and submit a form to the Director of Antiquities (a blank copy of the said form can be found to the right.) If an individual is successful in obtaining this license, they can only metal-detect in areas specified by the Minister by a notice in the Republic’s Official Gazette. There have been no recent notices designating metal-detecting areas. If Mr X is found to not possess the requisite metal-detector license he could be found liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years and/or to a fine not exceeding €30.000.

In my discussion with an individual from Department of Antiquities, finding looted antiquities in Cypriot houses, particularly in more remote areas of the island, is very common. The day Mr. X was arrested, gun shots were heard in Peristerona.[4] Two days later, four men -- two with gunshots wounds -- were arrested and the incident was attributed to an attempt to settle a score between rival gangs. According to a person working in the Department of Antiquities, upon inspection of one of the men's houses, illicitly excavated antiquities were found. No newspaper published this event and I only came to know about it from a discussion with the unnamed individual working in the Department of Antiquities.[5]

Are all these busts related to one another? Is each individual smuggling their contraband abroad and selling it themselves on the grey market[6] or is there a 'Medici/Becchina' figure who is facilitating the sale of antiquities? In 2010, police caught a cartel of ten smugglers that were attempting to sell 4,000-year old urns, silver coins and figurines, worth an estimate of €11 million (approximately $15 million)[7]. Could their associates still be in 'business'? How large and how far does this ring of organised crime[8] extend in Cyprus?

[1] "Stolen Relics Arrest." InCyprus.com. Philenews. 28 Feb. 2014.
[3] There is a lot of criticism of this 1973 amendment to the Antiquities Law. The illicit trade in antiquities flourished in Cyprus in the 1960s. The Department of Antiquities tried to control it by imposing the six-month registration period (the amendment in June 1973 allowed collectors until 31 December 1973 to register their collections). This however had the adverse effect of intensifying looting and illicit trade - private collectors became greedy and wanted to acquire as many artefacts as possible so as they could register them by the deadline. More than 1250 new private collections appeared during this period, many of which purchased artefacts directly from looters. (See Hardy, Sam A. "Cypriot Antiquities Law on Looted Artefacts and Private Collections." Web log post. Human Rights Archaeology: Cultural Heritage in Conflict., 11 Jan. 2011.) 
[4] Psillides, Constantinos. "New Arrest in Case of Peristerona Shoot-out." 
[5] The Director of Antiquities (who is responsible for press releases) failed to respond to my telephone calls or e-mails in regards to this article. 
[6] Illicit antiquities are frequently sold on the open market. McKenzie argues that, because the trade in antiquities is legal, it turns the issue from black and white to an ambiguous shade of grey. See Mackenzie, Simon, 'The Market as Criminal and Criminals in the Market: Reducing Opportunities for Organised Crime in the International Antiquities Market'. 
[8] Vulnerabilities in the antiquities trade have presented the opportunity to make a profit through organised crime. Art. 2(a) of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime 2000 defines organised crime as being: “[a] structured group of three or more persons... acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences... to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.” The following subsections go on to define 'serious crimes' and 'structured group', but it is evident that the group arrested in 2010 fits the UN definition. Although there are various definitions for organised crime, the UN's definition is broader than say that of the FBI's to include crimes such as antiquities, which are not necessarily motivated by money; they also do not need to be in a formal organisation but must have committed criminal not civil offences.

References:


Cyprus Antiquities Law.

"Cyprus Antiquities Smuggling Ring Broken up." BBC News. BBC, 25 Jan. 2010.

Brief Telephone Discussion with an unnamed individual working in the Department of Antiquities. 

Hardy, Sam A. "Cypriot Antiquities Law on Looted Artefacts and Private Collections." Web log post. Human Rights Archaeology: Cultural Heritage in Conflict., 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 

Mackenzie, Simon. 2011: 'The Market as Criminal and Criminals in the Market: Reducing Opportunities for Organised Crime in the International Antiquities Market'. in: S. Manacorda and D. Chappell, (eds) Crime in the Art and Antiquities World: Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Property. New York: Springer, New York; 69 - 86.

Psillides, Constantinos. "New Arrest in Case of Peristerona Shoot-out." Cyprus Mail. N.p., 15 Mar. 2014.

"Stolen Relics Arrest." InCyprus.com. Philenews. 28 Feb. 2014.

"Αυτό δεν ήταν σπίτι αλλά…μουσείο." Alithia Online. Aλήθεια, 28 Feb. 2014. Web.

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