Cyprus: a theft of illicit antiquities and an interesting legal quandary

Frustratingly, my news traps are evidently still poor at catching information about the illicit antiquities trade in the Eastern Mediterranean; but thankfully, the Museum Security Network managed to get this: there has been a theft of illicit antiquities in Cyprus. At least, the thief stole illicitly-possessed antiquities; at best, the thief stole looted antiquities from a looter.

Syrian thief, Greek Cypriot illicit excavator-possessor?

According to Phileleftheros (via Troktiko) and the Cyprus Mail (via Museum Security Network), a 26-year-old ‘foreigner [αλλοδαπός]’/Syrian man was arrested with three amphorae, which he had hoped to sell for €900.

Much detail, little clarity

It is not known whether the Syrian was arrested by undercover antiquities police (in a sting operation), by detectives in a standard raid (for instance, in an intelligence-led operation, following a tip-off from an informant), or by foot patrol or traffic police by chance (for example, after a stop-and-search). It’s not known whether he wanted to sell the three amphorae as a group for €900 together; separately for €300 each; or separately for (for example) €400, €300 and €200.

Illicit sale, illicit possession, illicit excavation?

This is where it gets really interesting. The Syrian confessed that he had taken the antiquities from a building in a field in Limassol District in October 2012. The police found two more amphorae on the land, which belonged to a 65-year-old Greek Cypriot; but none of the five (Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze Age) antiquities belonged to him. So, the “victim” of the “theft” was arrested as well.

According to Phileleftheros,

Under interrogation, the 65-year-old stated that he had located the five amphorae nine years ago, during earthworks/quarrying; however, he did not inform the appropriate services and he kept them in the premises where they were found.

[Ανακρινόμενος, ο 65χρονος ανέφερε πως τους πέντε αμφορείς τους είχε εντοπίσει πριν από 9 χρόνια, κατά τη διάρκεια χωματουργικών εργασιών, ωστόσο δεν ενημέρωσε τις αρμόδιες υπηρεσίες και τους κράτησε στο υποστατικό όπου εντοπίστηκαν.]

The 65-year-old Greek Cypriot has been formally charged and released (until trial); the 26-year-old Syrian has been held for continued questioning (to be released until trial).

Key questions

The police stated that the crimes comprised ‘illegal possession of antiquities, [and] theft of and trade in antiquities [παράνομη κατοχή αρχαιοτήτων, εμπορία και κλοπή αρχαιοτήτων]’.

  1. Do the police have corroborating evidence for the Greek Cypriot’s claims (for example, from labourers on the earthwork/quarrying project)?
    • If so, why has no-one mentioned it?
    • If not, why have the police apparently accepted the good faith of the Greek Cypriot and released him pending trial (only) for illicit possession of antiquities?
  2. The Greek Cypriot police stated that one of the crimes was antiquities theft: who stole what from whom?
    • Are they planning to prosecute the Greek Cypriot for theft of antiquities from the state? In other words, do the police suspect him of looting after all?
    • Or are they planning to prosecute the Syrian who hoped to sell the amphorae illicitly for stealing the antiquities from the Greek Cypriot who possessed them illicitly? In other words, are the police planning to prosecute one person for taking things from another person who did not own them either (perhaps on the basis that he intended to steal or that he believed that he was stealing them)?
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