Greece fails to stop royal sale

A London auction of Greek royal heirlooms went ahead, and with great success, yesterday despite warnings from the Greek government that buyers could face legal action. Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said Greece had asked the British courts to oblige the auction house Christie’s to explain how it acquired the collection of more than 850 pieces, including silverware, paintings and furniture, which had once belonged to King George I before being released to ex-king Constantine in 1991. Christie’s said all the works were legally obtained and saw no reason to cancel the sale. The minister insisted, however, that the government would take legal action unless buyers can prove that the pieces were legally taken from Greece. «If someone buys something that proves to be illegal, the state will turn against both Christie’s and the buyer,» he told state television. «If I were a buyer, I would think about it.» But the minister’s words had little, if any, impact on art collectors in London who snapped up the items, some at inflated prices. «It’s been going really well; lots of items are going at above estimate,» a spokeswoman for Christie’s said. A lounge table, specially designed for King George I and with an asking price of 5,000 pounds (or 7,600 euros), was sold for 115,000 pounds (or 175,000 euros), she said. The 440 pieces on auction yesterday were all expected to be sold by late evening. Another 400 or so items – including a collection of model ships, furniture bearing the royal crest and a silver statue of George I on horseback – are due to go under the hammer today when the auction is to conclude. Voulgarakis stressed that Athens was only interested in items that have been illegally exported and would be satisfied if Christie’s could prove their legal origin. Greek lawyers delivered a letter to the auction house, saying Christie’s must inform potential buyers of the risks involved, the ministry said in a statement. «You are solely responsible for ensuring that all potential buyers know of our clients’ strong reservations,» the letter said.

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