NEWS

Government asks for auction of royal art to be canceled

London-based Christie’s auction house said yesterday that it would go ahead with an auction of heirlooms once owned by the former Greek royal family, despite an appeal from the government in Athens for the items to be withdrawn from sale. «We see no reason for the sale not to go ahead as planned,» Christie’s said in a statement. The two-day sale is scheduled to start today in London. Greek Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis has insisted Christie’s must withdraw the artifacts – more than 850 items that originally belonged to King George I of Greece – from sale, and provide «clear and detailed explanations» of where they came from. «The items that Christie’s desires to auction are beyond doubt part of Greek history,» Voulgarakis said yesterday. In a letter sent yesterday to the auction house, Voulgarakis said the artifacts may have been illegally exported from Greece, and urged Christie’s to stop the sale – threatening legal action. But Christie’s said it had received no written request from Greek authorities. «No approach has been made to Christie’s on behalf of Mr Voulgarakis or the Greek government until a telephone call – less than 24 hours before the auction – in which we were asked to withdraw unspecified lots on the unexplained basis that they belong to the Greek state.» «Christie’s is surprised by this development,» the statement said. The highlights of the sale include giant silver flasks, Chinese jade and a gold Faberge egg worth up to 50,000 pounds (75,000 euros). Christie’s said much of the collection came from the former royal estate at Tatoi, on the northern outskirts of Athens, but has declined to identify the seller. A spokeswoman for the London-based former royal family said it no longer owns the collection. «The items to be auctioned were sold by the Greek royal family in 1991,» Aliki Strongylos told The Associated Press. «We don’t know who is currently selling them.» The dispute highlights Greece’s uncomfortable relations with its last monarch, the deposed king Constantine II, 66, and his family. In 1991, the Greek government allowed Constantine to remove hundreds of items from Tatoi – where his parents, King Paul and Queen Frederika, are buried. The royal estates were confiscated in 1994, but in 2003 the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Court ordered Greece to pay Constantine 12 million euros in compensation. A statement yesterday on Constantine’s website said «conclusive evidence… has been repeatedly presented regarding the legality» of exporting the artifacts. The statement accused the Greek government of neglecting the sprawling, forested Tatoi Estate, where a crumbling summer palace and other buildings have been listed as historic monuments.