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Cyprus

Looted icon of St George returns to Cyprus after confiscation in Switzerland

Photo: CNA

An 1829 Greek Orthodox icon of St. George, looted from the village of Karavas, in Cyprus following the 1974 Turkish invasion, is set to be repatriated, after it was confiscated by the Swiss authorities.

The icon was confiscated only hours before going to auction in Koller, an auction house in Zurich. The legal process was completed in less than a year, following close cooperation between the Church of Cyprus, Cypriot and Swiss authorities.

The icon is now in Cypriot hands in Switzerland and will be repatriated by a Church of Cyprus representative.

The icon was housed in the church of St George, in Karavas until the 1974 Turkish invasion. The present owner was not aware that the icon was stolen and accepted to return it to the Cypriot authorities after he learned about its provenance. There are no details about the nationality of the owner or the way he came into possession of the icon.

Legal procedures to return the icon started after a complaint lodged by the Church of Cyprus. The Church cooperated with the ministry of justice, police, the embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Italy and the Swiss authorities.

CNA learned from the embassy of Cyprus in Rome that Bishop Porphyrios of Neapolis sent a letter in August 2017, informing the chief of the Cyprus police about the auctioning on September 22. The Cyprus police then informed Interpol, asking for the icon to be withdrawn.

This was made possible only hours before the icon went to auction, with the Swiss authorities asking later for more details from their Cypriot counterparts. A detailed report was submitted to attest the icon’s Cypriot provenance and the fact that it is a protected artefact. Subsequently, the office of the Swiss prosecutor took over the case.  The icon was returned earlier this month and is awaiting repatriation.

It portrays St George killing the dragon and is surrounded by 16 smaller images depicting scenes from the Saint’s miracles and his martyrdom.

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