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Stolen statue of Apollo returned to Greece

June 16, 2007 8:53 AM

ATHENS, Greece-Greek authorities on Wednesday took delivery of a 1,900 year-old statue, stolen 16 years ago and recently discovered in the collection of an antiquities dealer in Switzerland.

Recovery of the headless marble sculpture is part of an aggressive Greek campaign to repatriate illegally exported antiquities and seek the return of the Parthenon sculptures, also called the Elgin Marbles, from the British Museum in London.

Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said the statue returned Thursday had been stolen in 1991 from the town of Gortyn on the island of Crete.

It was traced in March this year in the northern Swiss city of Basel, according to Switzerland's office for culture and Greece's Culture Ministry.

The two ministries signed a heritage-protection agreement on May 15.

Switzerland has intensified measures to combat the illegal transfer of cultural goods, and also signed recent agreements with Italy and Peru.

"Today's event is a result of international cooperation to protect our cultural heritage. More results will be announced soon," Voulgarakis said after the statue was delivered to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

He said the statue will be returned to Crete at a later date.

The statue, a 1.3 meter (4.3-foot) torso of a young man, had been registered as stolen on an international police database. Its location was reported to Interpol in March by an unknown individual, Yves Fischer of Switzerland's office for culture told The Associated Press.

Voulgarakis said the Swiss-based antiquities dealer was persuaded by authorities to surrender the statue and voluntarily drop all claims to it.

Voulgarakis formerly headed a ministry in charge of law enforcement and has stepped up efforts against the rogue antiquities trade since becoming culture minister last year.

Recently returned antiquities include sculptures from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Voulgarakis' campaign coincides with the construction of a museum at the foot of the ancient Acropolis which is due open in early 2008.

The site will be purpose built to house the Elgin marbles, if returned.

"The new museum will soon be a reality," Voulgarakis said. "We are striving for the marbles to be reunited. It would be a shame for such a museum at such a special site to remain half-empty."

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