Following the discovery of hundreds of illegal antiquities at a villa on the island of Schinoussa, the policeman leading the investigation explained to Kathimerini how organized networks are able to turn their plunder into legal ancient artifacts on the international market.
Giorgos Gligoris, the head of the Illegal Antiquities Department of Attica Police, has been leading the probe into how hundreds of unregistered artifacts ended up on the island, south of Naxos. The discovery was made on April 13.
He told Kathimerini that illegal antiquities mainly find their way into collectors’ hands in two ways. The first is when the artifacts are dug up by chance, usually by farmers or shepherds who then try to sell the finds.
The second method involves a more organized operation when international rings, often working to fill requests from collectors, will assign tasks to local illegal antiquities traders.
The rings supply their local collaborators with equipment, money and lists of the types of items they want to sell to collectors, the high-ranking policeman said.
He added it was no coincidence that the largest collection of Minoan artifacts outside Greece belongs to a private collector in Switzerland.
Greece is not the only country where these rings operate but it has particularly stringent antiquities laws. Anyone owning an artifact dating to 1830 or earlier must declare it to the Culture Ministry. Collectors must provide guarantees that they will look after the antiquities. They are also obliged to maintain a list with photographs of the artifacts in their possession. The list must be updated every six months and submitted to the ministry.
Gligoris said most illegal antiquities are taken to Switzerland, where the “laundering” process takes place. This involves either a third party registering the artifacts as objects they inherited or an antiquities dealer declaring that he bought the items from a private collector who prefers to remain anonymous. From that point on, Gligoris said, it is extremely difficult for authorities to trace the loot.
The thing I've never quite understood is the 'fill requests from collectors' aspect, especially as described above. It would be very interesting to know how 'quickly' a request can be filled ...