June 14, 2007 / 1:30 PM / in 12 years

Greece hails return of stolen ancient statue

ATHENS, June 14 (Reuters Life!) - Greece on Thursday said an agreement with Switzerland to facilitate the return of stolen or illegally excavated antiquities was starting to bear fruit with the return of an ancient male marble torso.

The torso of a marble statue of Apollo, dating back to the first century A.D., is displayed at Greece's National Archaeological Museum in Athens June 14, 2007. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

Greece and Switzerland, a main thoroughfare for internationally traded ancient art, signed a memorandum of cooperation in May for the repatriation of illegally exported Greek antiquities.

“The return of this statue would not have taken place were it not for this memorandum,” Culture Minister George Voulgarakis told reporters, standing next to the marble male torso dating to the 1st century AD, stolen from the island of Crete in the early 1990s.

“Switzerland is a trading and transit country for cultural products to other countries,” he said.

The marble statue of god Apollo, discovered in the late 19th century in the town of Gortyna in Crete, was sought by Greece ever since it was reported stolen in 1991 together with nine other items.

It was not until March this year that Interpol informed Athens it had tracked it down in Berne.

Voulgarakis said Swiss arts dealer David Cahn, who had the statue in his possession, returned it unconditionally after a brief legal dispute.

Greece has already received several priceless ancient objects from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in the past year.

Former Getty antiquities curator Marion True faces criminal charges in both Greece and Italy for conspiring to receive stolen goods. She has denied the charges.

Greece would most like to have the marble friezes and sculptures of the Athens Acropolis that were removed by British diplomat Lord Elgin some 200 years ago returned. They are and currently housed in the British Museum in London.

“This effort of repatriation will continue with the same intensity,” Voulgarakis said. “We hope the return of the Parthenon temple marbles will also become a reality.”

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