Battling the grand theft of Greek history

The illegal trade in antiquities trafficking is increasingly taking on the dimensions of organized crime – operating in tight, closed circles, clearing huge profits in the millions, and selling the stolen relics to high-profile private and public museums, according to police responsible for monitoring this criminal sector. Giorgos Gligoris, who heads the police squad which combats the trafficking of antiquities, says a sculpture from 500 BC will fetch around 5.8 million euros ($7 million) on the antiquities market while a Byzantine icon from the 16th century will get about 1.5 million euros ($1.785 million). The sculptures are often looted from archaeological sites while the icons are often ripped from the walls of monasteries and churches, Gligoris said, adding that some 90 percent of the stolen relics leave Greece. He describes treasure hunters armed with metal detectors, working with intermediaries who pass on the loot to art dealers – who then sell them. Stolen artifacts from Greece are likely adorning the walls of private collectors and private and public museums. Consider the Getty Museum in California, which the Greek authorities have taken to court so the embattled museum – which is also being sued by Italy, where a major trial involving a former Getty curator is under way – can return relics to Greece.

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