Paphos Mayor Accuses Museum Staff of Stealing Antiquities

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by Kate Fitz Gibbon

September 15, 2016 – A public dispute has flared up between the mayor of Paphos, Cyprus and the Cyprus antiquities department over the mayor’s accusations that antiquities staffers stole and sold off artifacts from Cyprus’ museums, and that these thefts are one reason for the failure to digitally document thousands of antiquities stored in the Paphos Archaeological Museum basement. The row stems from a complaint made 45 days before by mayor Phedonas Phedonos to antiquities department director Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou about the state of the museum, to which no reply had yet been received.

Mayor Phedonos complained that only 5000 of the museum’s approximately 20,000 antiquities have been digitized in seven years of work on the project. The collection was first established in the 1930s, with many items added in the 1960s. The majority of the pieces had never been catalogued. According to the mayor, no one knows what or how many antiquities were stored there. Phedonos has said that while the majority of antiquities department staff were not thieves, looting was booming on Cyprus and that the “looters and organized crime have entered the antiquities department.”

The mayor was present at a news conference in the Paphos museum basement at which Ieronymidou defended her staff, saying that thousands of items were merely undocumented, not stolen. Curator Despo Pilidou, appearing with Ieronymidou, said that the warehouses of museums were not “where we throw objects, nor places where the objects are left to be ruined.” Pilidou said that Cyprus museums are able to show only 10% of their inventory due to insufficient funding, the need to upgrade, and the huge volume of available antiquities in Cyprus. The Cyprus Transport Minister, whose department oversees the antiquities department, has defended Ieronymidou, but also asked the local police to investigate the mayor’s claims.

Mayor Phedonos has also registered complaints about the theft of antiquities from the Polis Chrysochous museum; in that case, a number of stolen objects were later found 50 km away, near Bonamare, on Timi beach.
In comparison to the well-organized galleries, a photo from the news conference shows waist- and shoulder-high stacks of miscellaneous used boxes in the antiquities basement storage.

This article appeared first on August 10, 2016 on the Committee for Cultural Policy website.

In 2012 Greece saw a series of spectacular museum robberies on which we reported.

One year before UNESCO published the results of a survey revealing a disastrous situation in museums all over the globe particularly as fare as storage and cataloguing is concerned.

We also reported on the Turkish museum director who paid off his gambling debts by selling off items that were entrusted to his care.