The arrival of three London-based lawyers in Athens on Monday on the invitation of the Greek government, has caused a stir. Journalists are scrambling to get in touch with the prime minister’s office to find out every detail of their schedule and members of the public want to know whether they will have a chance to get a peek at them. But this excitement is hardly associated with the reason why the lawyers are coming to Greece, which is to explore the legal route for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum to Greece. It is more likely linked to the fact that the youngest of the three visiting legal experts, 36-year-old Amal Alamuddin, recently became Mrs George Clooney after marrying the Hollywood star in Venice.
Needless to say, many in Greece think that the arrival of the lawyer has something to do with an off-the-cuff comment made by Clooney while promoting the film “The Monuments Men” in February, suggesting that the return of the sculptures that once graced the ancient citadel “is probably the right thing to do.” But the truth is that Alamuddin has been involved in the issue since February 2011.
It was then that David Hill, the English-born Australian archaeologist who chairs the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles and believes that Greece must take judicial recourse, asked Norman Palmer, a lawyer specializing in cultural heritage issues, to explore Greece’s legal options. The two men had met at a conference in Athens and had kept in touch over the years, so Hill was very familiar with Palmer’s numerous successes, including the return of Aborigine remains to Australia from London’s Natural History Museum.
Palmer accepted Hill’s request and sought the help of another lawyer he had worked with on the Australian claim, Geoffrey Robertson, known for his eccentric sartorial style and the important international cases handled by his firm, one of the biggest in London.
The two prestigious British lawyers and three more associates conducted exhaustive research into British law as well as exploring at which courts Greece could make its claim, and drafted a proposal. One of the signatures on the 10-page brief is that of Alamuddin.
Hill received the brief in 2011 and immediately got on a plane to Athens. The Foreign Affairs Ministry showed some interest at first, but a few weeks later Hill got a call saying that the time was not right for such a move because of the crisis. Hill decided to take one more trip when the new government was elected in 2012 and sought a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, whom he had met in 2009 at the opening of the new Acropolis Museum. The two men had sat together for a moment and Hill shared with Samaras his thoughts for a more aggressive legal approach to the matter. Samaras was interested in what the British lawyer had to say and asked that they meet again. The meeting was delayed because of the elections but once Samaras became prime minister Hill sent the brief and the two men met again.
At that encounter the prime minister asked for a meeting with the legal team that put together the brief.
Their trip to the Greek capital had originally been planned to take place in the first half of September. Alamuddin and Clooney’s wedding pushed it to Monday.
According to the official schedule of the visit, the three lawyers will start with a tour of the Acropolis Museum and will then meet with Samaras, as well as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Culture Minister Costas Tasoulas, together with other officials from the ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs.