Greece: Olympia Museum robbery suspects convicted and sentenced

Seven people have been convicted for the robbery of the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games (Global Post via @artcrimeHQ and eKathimerini via Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues). Apart from the fact that the English-language and French-language media have misreported the prison sentences of the convicted (1), the amateurish nature of the hold-up has been forgotten.

Conviction and sentencing

The prosecutor asserted (and the judges agreed) the crew’s guilt ‘for the formation of a gang [that is, a criminal conspiracy, but] not an organised crime gang [για τη σύσταση συμμορίας και όχι εγκληματικής οργάνωσης]’.

Greek business

All of the major players were Greek. The “mastermind”, who planned the operation and tried to sell the stolen goods, has been imprisoned for seventeen years and three months (not seven years as reported in the international press); the two key accomplices, who participated in the meeting for the sale, have been sentenced to seven years and eight months’ imprisonment and a €1,500 fine, and seven years and eight months’ imprisonment; and the two more peripheral accomplices have been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.

Foreign workers

The two most peripheral accomplices were Bulgarian. They have been given two-year suspended sentences and €1,000 fines. Their sentences demonstrate that they were on the very edge of this group, and suggest that they were simply employed as (albeit criminal) labourers to perform the most menial tasks. Despite repeated insinuations, claims and acts (such as conspicuous questionings), no Albanians were involved in any way.

An amateur hold-up, not a professional heist

The “mastermind“, the “brains behind the operation”, made his living by selling cigarette lighters from a park bench. I’m not at all suggesting that he was unintelligent or that his poverty was a consequence and indication of his capability. My point is that he had not had access to education; he had not had the opportunity to plan either the theft or the sale of the artefacts professionally; he was not an evil genius. He and his partners were feckless chancers who tried to steal objects that didn’t exist (in that museum), took what they found, then tried to sell them in the street.

Greece under austerity, cultural heritage under threat

Austerity has left Greece’s cultural heritage under-protected. In order to prevent the shaming of the museum and the exposure of its vulnerability, the police presented the robbery as a professional heist. The museum itself does not deserve to be shamed. Even if the museum had been better secured, the hold-up would still have been an armed robbery. But, for the cuts to the cultural budget (as for the cuts to so many other public services), the imposers of austerity do deserve to be shamed. It does not support cultural heritage workers or protect cultural heritage to deny how vulnerable Greece’s archaeological sites and museums are, and they are becoming more vulnerable by the day.


1: Consequently, Greek media such as Kathimerini, which use international agencies’ reports for their English-language news concerning Greece rather than write or translate their own copy, have also misreported the sentences in English (eKathimerini).

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