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Cyprus

Partial victory for Cyprus in Dikmen artefacts fight (Updated)

By Elias Hazou

A Munich court on Monday ordered the repatriation to Cyprus of 34 ancient artefacts found in the possession of Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen.

In its ruling, the Munich Higher Regional Court ordered the return of the 34 items, 24 of which are ecclesiastical and the rest prehistoric artefacts.

The repatriation process is expected to be completed by the end of April, said Bishop Porfyrios, President of the Brussels-based Synodical Committee for Monuments and Art of the Church of Cyprus.

“It is a partial vindication, as the court also found that the Republic did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 49 other items we were also claiming belonged to Cyprus,” he told the Mail.

As such, the Munich court said those 49 artefacts belonged to Dikmen, who in the past was confirmed by a US court to be a dealer in looted relics.

“The struggle continues,” the bishop added.

Monday’s announcement by the Munich court was a summary of its findings; the full ruling is expected in one to two weeks.

Meantime Cyprus plans to recover the 49 other artefacts via a separate process with the Munich municipal court, which is expected to put up these items up for auction.

“The Republic will not pay anything extra if it recovers these items through the auction, because the amount will be offset against the €0.5m in fines which Dikmen has previously been ordered to pay the Church,” explained Bishop Porfyrios.

Repatriation of the remaining 49 items would “close the cycle” as far as Cyprus is concerned, he added.

The ruling represents the winding down of a protracted legal battle.

An estimated 20,000 religious, historic and prehistoric artefacts were smuggled out of Cyprus in the seventies and eighties. In October 1997, Dikmen was found in possession of several thousand items from various countries of which Cyprus laid claim to around 300. The estimated worth at the time of all of the items found in Dikmen’s possession was put at more than $40 million.

Dikmen was arrested in Munich, where he lived, after dozens of antiquities were found hidden behind fake walls and under the floors in two apartments he occupied. In addition to the frescoes and icons, Bavarian police also found statues, terracotta pots and coins.

In September 2010 a German court ordered the return of a large number of the artefacts ruling that the church had succeeded in proving provenance for each item.

Dikmen appealed but just over two years later in March 2013, the appeals court ruled that part of the stolen religious artefacts should be returned to Cyprus, which they were later that year.

The church had proved that the 173 artefacts had come from 51 different churches in the north of Cyprus, but it was only a partial decision.

The latest ruling on Monday concerned the remaining 83 items.

The Mail understands that the court decision in the civil case does not entail any other penalties or liabilities for Dikmen, who continues to practice as an art dealer.

In a statement released on Monday, Walk of Truth, a registered charity with a network of culture crime watchers worldwide, said it was “appalled” at the ruling.

“It is shocking to us that the benefit of the doubt should be awarded to an individual who was confirmed by the Court of Indianapolis as a dealer in looted artefacts after he sold four Kanakaria mosaics to a US collector.

The German legal system has effectively put his claim on an equal footing with that of a national cultural heritage that has suffered devastating losses.”

The organisation said it has intervened to demand that German authorities return no artefacts to Dikmen for at least one year, as well as publish a full list of the more than 5,000 artefacts seized in his apartment “so that other nations have a chance to identify and claim any treasures of their cultural heritage lost to looting.”

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