Prosecutors are investigating whether nearly 300 antiquities seized from a villa on a remote island are connected to a dispute between the Greek government and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the culture minister said Tuesday.
The discovery last week was one of the biggest cases involving antiquities in recent years, and the police suspect that international smuggling rings were involved, Giorgos Voulgarakis, the culture minister, said. He said, however, that there was no evidence supporting media reports of a link between the police raids and a dispute between Greece and the Getty Museum. Greece is seeking the return of four items from the museum, arguing that they were illegally exported.
"It is too early to draw conclusions," Voulgarakis said. "Greek prosecutors are investigating the possible illegal acts linked with the presence in the Getty of the Greek antiquities."
He said this was "one of the most complex cases in recent years" and involved pieces from the Mediterranean and elsewhere. He said many of the items appeared to have been bought at the Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses but none had been declared to national authorities, as Greek law demands.
"There are seals and packaging which indicate that there was commercial trafficking going on," Voulgarakis said.
Police on March 12 confiscated an estimated 280 artifacts during raids at the villa on Schoinousa, in the Cyclades island chain, and at a house in Athens. A Culture Ministry statement said the properties belonged to the Papadimitriou shipping family.
Police made no arrests and said the owners were in London during the raids. Voulgarakis said ministry officials would evaluate the seized artifacts, which included modern copies, before charges could be pressed.
"This may work as an international signal that will sensitize many more people to the problem of the illegal trafficking and possession of antiquities," Voulgarakis said.
The artifacts include a headless marble statue of Aphrodite dating from Roman times; a marble sarcophagus decorated with sculpted human and animal masks; three marble busts; and two granite sphinxes. There also were dozens of marble architectural fragments, many of which were built into a modern chapel on the estate surrounding the villa.