24 January, 2007
Greece's government on Tuesday repeated a demand that the London auction house Christie's call off the sale of items belonging to the early 20th-century Greek monarch George I, stressing that the precise origins of the items in the collection had not been made public.
According to an ANA-MPA correspondent in London, meanwhile, a British solicitor representing the Greek culture ministry had already sent a letter to Christie's, formally asking that it cancel the auction scheduled to take place on Thursday and Friday. The auction house had not yet responded.
"The culture ministry is systematically and methodically trying to protect our cultural heritage, namely Greek history," Greek Culture Minister George Voulgarakis told reporters on Tuesday amid the uproar over the auction. He underlined that the objects in question are indisputably part of modern Greek history.
"In spite of the fact that the list of objects is long and detailed, their exact origin and the way they reached the auction house has not been made public," Voulgarakis said, while adding that the Greek state will notify auction participants that it reserves all legal rights.
According to alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros, meanwhile, the government intended to do whatever was necessary in order to find out how the objects came into Christie's possession.
Asked whether the Greek State might participate in the auction to bid for some of the items in the collection, Antonaros stressed that the culture minister "had not raised any such issue".
A day earlier, Voulgarakis had issued an "extrajudicial protest" to Christie's Auction House, calling for the withdrawal "of cultural goods appearing to belong to the collection of the King of the Hellenes, George I". The auction has been scheduled for Jan. 24-25 in London.
The protest was also conveyed to Britain's ambassador in Greece.
Should Christie's ignore Greece's official request, the Greek state has prepared a team of experienced British lawyers that will exhaust all legal avenues of preventing Thursday's auction, possibly by seeking an temporary injunction from London courts.
A culture ministry announcement underlined that "from the list of the auction and from the investigation being conducted, it arises that the auctioned goods constitute part of the history of the modern Greek state and of our cultural heritage, resulting in the issue being raised of illegal export of cultural goods from Greece."
Christie's firm comments on former Greek royal family items
The British Auction firm Christie's, in an announcement on Wednesday in reply to the extrajudicial summons by the Greek culture ministry (that requests the stopping of the auctioning of property belonging to King George I of the Hellenes) said that the two-day sale will go ahead as planned.
The announcement stresses that "the sale has attracted extensive international interest" and adds that "Christie's is surprised by this development. The sale was announced nearly 8 weeks ago on 30 November 2006 and the Greek Government were well aware of it."
It further said that this is reinforced by a written statement made by Mr. Voulgarakis on 3 January 2007 to the Greek Parliament in which he said that items which comprised part of the household of the former King, are included in the auction catalogue.
The announcement went on to say that Christie's went through its own diligence processes and is at a loss to understand why the Greek culture minister was now raising an issue concerning the sale.
Lastly, Christie's announcement concludes by saying that "despite the vague statement of Mr. Voulgarakis we see no reason for the sale not to go ahead as planned. The sale has attracted extensive international interest and we look forward to the two day sale starting tomorrow."
The group of British jurists to which the Greek embassy in London has assigned the case will decide whether there will be any other action on the part of Greece in the effort to cancel the auction.
Culture ministry replies
Responding to the announcement by the London-based Christie's firm on Tuesday, the culture ministry addressed the following letter to the firm in the evening, through its lawyers.
"Since you have refused to comply with the content of the extrajudicial protest, you are proceeding with tomorrow's auction exclusively at your own responsibility.
More specifically, you did not certify that all the items in the collection were included in the export license of the year 1991. This creates great surprise for us given that your lawyers mention in the letter they addressed to us today that you were directly involved in the packaging of the items for sending to England from the former royal palace at Tatoi," it said.
"Our clients have the strong conviction that items from those to be auctioned tomorrow might belong to the ownership of the Hellenic state and/or have been exported illegally from Greece. We refer to the website of the former royal family of Greece where they appear to accept that some of the items to be auctioned are not included in the above list, with reference to the phrase "to the best of our knowledge, many of the items being auctioned are registered in the lists of the household that was exported from Greece with the care and permission of the relevant authorities in the year 1991," it added.
Lastly, the letter said "following the above, we render you exclusively responsible to confirm that all candidate buyers are aware of the content of this letter, as well as of the strong reservations of our clients" and pointed out that their clients will reserve all their legal rights.
Source: Athens News Agency