New clues unearthed in complex antiquities case

A search of the villa on the island of Schinoussa where hundreds of illegal antiquities have been found has revealed a workshop which may have produced copies of the items, authorities said yesterday, as police looked for an underground crypt on the property which is thought to contain yet more treasures. Archaeologists and police experts at the site have so far cataloged 99 items, Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said at a press conference yesterday. He said it would be some time before the full size of the collection and its origins would be clear. «This is one of the most complex cases in recent years,» said Voulgarakis. The minister said it appeared that many of the antiquities had been bought at the Christie's and Sotheby's international auction houses between 2001 and September last year but had not been declared to state authorities. «The question is not whether they were bought legally, it is whether they were being kept legally,» said Voulgarakis. Greek law requires the possession of antiquities to be declared. The collection is thought to include items from Egypt, Italy and other Mediterranean countries as well as Greece. Voulgarakis said it was too early to draw conclusions about who owned the collection, how it was put together and what purpose it served. He added that no link could be established at this stage between the find in Schinoussa and the dispute between Greece and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles over the return of four ancient artifacts. He did, however, indicate that this is now an international investigation. «There are seals and packaging which indicate that there was commercial trafficking going on,» the minister said. Foreign police forces have been notified about the collection at the villa. Authorities are examining the possibility that the workshop at the complex was used to make copies of the antiquities that were found in the collection. Meanwhile, police from the Antiquities Department of the Attica Police and archaeologists are scouring the site after a tip-off that a secret crypt lies somewhere in the complex. Based on their investigation, police had a list of items they expected to discover at the villa. They have not found all of them so far and believe that some may be hidden. An officer who did not want to be named told Kathimerini that a search inside the villa had failed to reveal any secret hiding place. However, the complex covers an area of more than 10 hectares and will take some time to search completely, the officer said.