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Stolen ancient icons set for return December 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Occupied, Religion & Faith.

Six 13th century Byzantine icons stolen from a church in the occupied Morphou area after 1974 have been recovered in the US and will be returned to the island next month, Church lawyer Giorgios Hadjipieris said yesterday.

The six icons were located at the Sotheby’s auction house in New York last Autumn after Church investigators spotted them up for sale in a catalogue last year, Hedjipieris said.
Five of the six icons were from the church in occupied Assinou in the Morphou district and the sixth is from Kalopanayiotis in the free area. Among others they include depictions of the Virgin of Assinou, the Apostles Peter and Paul and Ayios (Saint) Andronikos.

All have been well-documented in the past in various publications and books, which made the Church’s case easier to prove, Hadjipieris said. He said the icons had been in the possession of the Pankow Foundation created by construction magnate Charles Pankow.

Pankow was well known as a connoisseur of the arts, having established a considerable collection of ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Russian artefacts. He amassed one of the largest private collections of Russian and Greek icons in the United States.

“After his death the administrators gathered a lot of his Byzantine pieces for auction and published a catalogue,” said Hadjipieris. He said the information reached the Cyprus Embassy in Washington and lawyers were appointed to secure the return of the icons to Cyprus.

The Church had to produce evidence that the icons were belong to Cyprus and a case was made. “We made a good case which was substantiated,” said Hadjipieris. He said an out-of-court settlement was reached with the administrators of the Foundation, although that did not mean that the Church bought back the icons.

“We didn’t buy them back. All we did was reimburse the foundation for expenses incurred,” he said. Hadjipieris said they had no idea how Charles Pankow had come into possession of the icons and this was not required to be disclosed in the settlement agreement.

“We don’t know where or who he got them from. If we had taken the issue to court they would have been forced to reveal it. However he said the cost of going to court would have been massive and since Cyprus and the US had signed an agreement since the Kanakaria case in the early 90s, such incidents could be reached through a private settlement. Hadjipieris said going to court was always a risky move in these kinds of cases. “It was entirely up to the parties to decide,” he said. “We approached the trustees on an ethical rather than legal basis.

Hadjipeiris said the icons would return to Cyprus likely by the middle of January and would be handed back to the Bishop of Morphou.

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