The transport ministry on Monday said it was preparing a letter asking the police chief to investigate the allegations of Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos that some of the antiquities department staff were stealing and selling artefacts from the basements of museums.
A spat has been ongoing between Phedonos and the antiquities department in recent months over disagreements as to the ancient artefacts discovered when a number of tombs were recently uncovered close to the town hall during works to upgrade the centre of Paphos.
Phedonos, who said he did not want any delays in the completion of the revamp works, had suggested showcasing the antiquities found in the square outside the town hall, by placing them if possible in glass cases where they were found. He had also suggested temporarily closing the street at the point where the antiquities were found, and to circumvent the excavation area, so that sewerage and electricity cables follow another route.
The Paphos mayor claimed that his suggestions prompted an antiquities department official to threaten him that if this happened, she would call the police and have him arrested, as it would endanger the archaeologists excavating the site.
Relations worsened last month when the head of the antiquities department Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou reported Phedonos to the attorney-general’s office over allegations he made that her staff were stealing and selling artefacts from the basements of museums. In response, he urged her to do an inventory of the items in the basement of the Paphos Museum “to find out how many are there, and how many are missing”.
The antiquities head strongly denied the allegations against her staff and demanded that Phedonos present evidence to support his claims.
On Saturday, Transport Minister Marios Demetriades, under whose ministry the antiquities department operates, said in an announcement that he would ask the police chief to investigate Phedonos’ claims.
“When politicians lose their composure it leads to them making bad decisions, especially when it leads to the expression of complaints, as they are not made through the appropriate channels, without being investigated,” Demetriades said.
Such complaints, he said, were “casting shadows on public officials, poisoning public life and trying to discredit authorities and state institutions”.
As to the antiquities department, the minister said, as its political supervisor and based on his experience and information at his disposal, it “performs its duties with professionalism and integrity, contributing significantly to the promotion of the culture and history of our country and the preservation of our cultural heritage”.
Commenting on Demetriades’ announcement, Phedonos responded that “everyone was at the disposal of the police”, to provide the information they possess.
He also urged Demetriades to order an inventory of the antiquities stored in the basement of the Paphos museum.
For this (investigation) to have “a solid base, first, a check and inventory must begin at the underground storage facilities,” Phedonos said.
He added that it has been 45 days since he made these reports to Solomidou-Ieronymidou, and that she is still “in no position to say how many thousands of ancient artefacts are in the storage facilities in question”.
“Paphos has already changed and will not return to the fear of silence,” he said, referring to the jailing of former mayor Savvas Vergas for corruption.
Phedonos has quickly earned a reputation as an outspoken mayor.
He urged Demetriades not to call him “a slanderer,” and said that “if it were not for ‘slanderers’, the former mayor of Paphos, would still have his position at the municipality”.