POLICE said Friday it had no evidence to justify further investigation into the provenance of an ancient Egyptian artefact, which President Nicos Anastasiades was meant to return on Monday to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in a gesture of good neighbourly relations.
The matter was complicated after the House watchdog committee got involved and MPs demanded its provenance was confirmed as there were claims it had been illicitly unearthed in Cyprus.
The transport ministry, which has jurisdiction over the antiquities department, said the object, a vessel dated to the 13th century BC depicting Ramses II of the 19th dynasty, had been looted from Egypt.
On Friday, police said it had investigated the matter and decided no charges can be brought against anyone.
It said it had handed over the file to the attorney-general who agreed there was no case and green-lighted the object’s return to Egypt, which had made an official request for its return.
Transport Minister Marios Demetriades said it was much ado about nothing.
The matter came up in the House finance committee during discussion of his ministry’s budget for 2018.
He said the issue had been handled well by the antiquities department and praised the director Marina Ieronimidou.
“If only we had more (like her),” he said.
He added that if there was an ongoing police investigation and the artefact had to be kept, then it should be kept.
“At the end of the day I think a lot of fuss is being raised for no reason, as is for other issues during this period,” the minister said of the pre-election period. “If it shouldn’t be handed over then don’t hand it over. I can’t be any clearer.”
Green party chairman Giorgos Perdikis said the government narrative was riddled and ambiguous.
He said Ieronimidou told them the object had been on an alert list, something that no one told them on Thursday.
“On the contrary, we were told that police were informed afterwards by Interpol that the artefact was sought by Egyptian authorities,” he said.
Perdikis said the case must be fully investigated before the object could be released.
The story started in October 2016, when a Greek Cypriot man contacted Antiquities and requested an export permit for the artefact.
At the time, he did not bring the item with him, but provided photos of it. The man claimed the object was part of a private collection of his, and that he bought it from a woman for €350 in 1986.
But MPs contend that around the same timeframe, a number of people filed a report with Paphos police claiming the item was in fact stolen from a field in Kouklia, Paphos.
According to information given to MPs, among the people reporting this to police was the man who cultivated the plot from where the artefact was allegedly illegally excavated. Police then initiated an investigation.
It is based on this, the MPs say, that Antiquities then denied the Greek Cypriot’s request for an export permit and asked him to hand over the artefact.