FIVE men were arrested in Limassol yesterday morning in relation to investigations into an international network of illicit antiquities traders. Two Limassol homes were raided by police, who discovered an illegal hoard of great archaeological value.
“The finds are products of tomb-raiding by a group involved in illegal international antiquities trade,” said Police Chief Andreas Iatropoulos.
The suspects, three Cypriots and two Greeks, were arrested for illegal possession and trade of antiquities. Large collections were discovered in a garage in Ypsonas and a second house on P. Anagnostopoulos street at Kato Polemidia. The raids were conducted by two officers of the Greek Police, the anti-terrorism wing of the Mobile Immediate Action Unit (MMAD) and officers of the Limassol Police Department.
Around 100 items were found at the Kato Polemidia house, ranging from the Paleolithic to the Byzantine period. Confiscated items include hundreds of gold coins, bronze coins, statues, gold, bronze and metal antique jewellery, bronze seals, sheets of gold and albums with pictures of archaeological finds.
Approximately 40 more items were confiscated from the Ypsonas garage. An officer of the Antiquities Department is currently assessing the value of the finds.
“The confiscated items are of great archaeological value: they are a treasure. Only part of this collection would have been sold for 280,000 euro,” said Iatropoulos. The sale would have occurred yesterday morning, but was prevented by the police raids and arrests.
Investigations on the case began months ago when a Greek police officer informed police in Cyprus that a group of Cypriots possessed a large collection of archaeological finds and were seeking international buyers.
Cyprus police worked in cooperation with their Greek counterparts, and a Greek officer, experienced in similar cases, managed to infiltrate the illegal trade network. Pretending to be interested in buying Cypriot antiquities, he came to the island with two dealers, who lead the undercover officer to their Cypriot counterparts.
The three Cypriots run a tractor company, which police suspect was a front enabling them to identify and steal items of archaeological value.
“This is not the first time they have done this. We suspect they have been previously involved in illicit antiquities trading,” Iatropoulos added.
The law stipulates that in cases where digging for construction purposes brings archaeological finds to the surface, there is an obligation to present these to the Antiquities Department.