Greece Wins Back Hundreds of Stolen Artifacts From the Disgraced Dealer Robin Symes After a 17-Year Legal Battle


Greece has finally recovered a trove of stolen antiquities from the disgraced British dealer Robin Symes, the result of an arduous 17-year legal battle that began shortly after Symes was exposed, and then jailed, in 2005.

Greece’s culture minister Lina Mendoni announced the news on Friday, according to the BBC. Although she did not specify whether this is the case, the precious artifacts may have been part of the same hoard that was recovered at a Geneva freeport in 2016. A joint operation by Italy’s Carabinieri police and Swiss authorities uncovered 45 crates that had belonged to Symes. They had a combined worth of several hundred million dollars.

The 351 objects now repatriated to Greece include a 2nd century bronze statue of Alexander the Great, a Neolithic statuette dating as far back as 4,000 BCE and marble pieces from the Archaic period (roughly 700-500 BCE). The drawn-out fight for their return was waged against the discredited dealer’s eponymous company Robin Symes Ltd.

Greece has recovered 351 looted Neolithic to Byzantine artefacts, including a second century bronze statue of Alexander the Great, from a British antiquities dealer after a 17-year legal battle started in 2006.
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— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 20, 2023

Symes was first exposed during a dispute with the family of his former business partner Christo Michaelides, who died in 1999. When Symes refused to return Michaelides’s property to his family, his nephew launched a $16 million private investigation and lawsuit against Symes, who lost and was forced into bankruptcy.

In the process, a long history of Symes under-reporting his profits as well as the extent of his assets came to light, and he was eventually connected to the infamous Italian smuggler Giacomo Medici, who had helped organize the looting of archaeological sites in Italy. It is likely that the crates of antiquities recovered in 2016 ended up in the Geneva freeport shortly after Michaelides’s death, in order to remain concealed from the executors of his estate.

Controversy has followed any antiquities with possible links to Symes, including a Roman marble statue offered by Christie’s London in 2019 and a Roman marble head sold by Hindman Auctions in Chicago last year. Three lots included in a sale at Sotheby’s London in December also raised suspicion.

This announcement is just the latest victory for Greece in a slew of battles over the repatriation of precious artifacts. The Met agreed to return several pieces of looted art last month and, in March, the Vatican officially handed over three sculpture fragments from the Parthenon. Even attempts to resolve Greece’s ongoing conflict with the U.K. over the ownership of the Parthenon marbles has, in recent months, shown some signs of progressing.


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