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Former Greek premier caught red-handed with illegal antiquities

Almost all Minoan antiquities assembled by former premier, Mr Mitsotakis, appear to have an illegal provenance.

Athens

According to a report published 18 January by the Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, the collection of some 1,500 Minoan antiquities assembled by former premier, Mr Mitsotakis, almost all has an illegal provenance. Indeed, it seems that many pieces may well have been removed from finds made during the excavations conducted on Crete by the Herakleion Museum over the last four years. In proof Mrs Mercouri cites a gold diadem in the museum, of which one element is in the Mitsotakis Collection.

Although Mrs Mercouri's tenacious pursuit of her rival is clearly politically advantageous to the government, the discoveries by the commission of enquiry also reveal widespread malpractice and the obvious short-comings of existing Greek legislation. Mr Mitsotakis (who has limited himself to promising a statement to the press at a future date), has been able to hide behind a l937 law on archaeological goods which does not hold buyers responsible for any items subsequently discovered to have an illegal provenance, even though a parliamentary decree promulgated when Mr Mitsotakis's daughter, Dora Bakoyannis, was Minister of Culture, obliges collectors to declare the origins of their acquisitions. Mrs Mercouri intends to have recourse to the courts to get back Mr Mitsotakis's collection, although success is uncertain as parliamentary immunity is inviolable in Greece.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Former Greek premier caught red-handed'