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Archive for April, 2009

Just  a quick post for those of you who are interested in tricky little facts to unfurl at dinner parties: the year 46 B.C. was the longest year on record.

46 B.C. was the year that Julius Caesar made his calendar reforms. Suetonius writes in Julius Caesar 40, “First he reorganized the Calendar which the Poniffs had allowed to fall into such disorder, by intercalating days or months as it suited them, that the harvest and vintage festivals no longer corresponded with the appropriate seasons. He linked the year to the course of the sun by lengthening it from 355 days to 365, abolishing the short extra month intercalated after every second February, and adding an entire day every fourth year. But to make the next first of January fall at the right season, he drew out this particular year by two extra months, inserted between November and December, so that it consisted of fifteen, including the intercalary one insterted after February in the old style.”

So there you have it. Julius Caesar, inventor of the Leap Year Day and in whose honour the month of July is named, made the year 46 B.C. the longest ever, and thank goodness.

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Ordinarily, I am a remarkably apolitical person. However, this particular case concerns a cause very dear to me, and it simply cannot stand.

Malcom Hay is an antiquities dealer in London. One day in 1999, he sold some small antiquities to an Athenian dealer, which he says were worth £1800. The dealer then shipped them back to herself in two packages in Athens, where the law requires all antiquities mailed into the country to be examined by an archaeologist upon their arrival. The day the goods arrived, however, the airport archaeologist told this dealer that the goods would be inspected at a later date. At the promised later date, completely different archaeologists arrived to inspect the goods and found that the antiquities were not two packages’ worth, but more like two rooms’ worth. In addition to this, many of the artefacts were judged to be stolen. Confronted with this, and charged formally with possessing stolen objects, the dealer in question said that she was sold the objects by Mr. Hay.

The objects with which this dealer was caught did not match Mr. Hay’s invoice, but it didn’t seem to matter. Mr. Hay was contacted by Interpol in 2000, gave a statement and thought that this brought an end to the matter. However, in 2007, when he was returning from a trip to Switzerland, he was arrested by British authorities at City Airport because the Greek state had put out an EAW, or European Arrest Warrant, for him. EAWs were brought in to combat terrorism (of course) and facilitate the transfer of terror suspects between nation states in the European Union. This free transfer of prisoners from one state to another essentially means that the country seeking to prosecute does not have to prove that its case against the accused is valid before the home nation extradites. States bound by such EAWs must extradite, no questions asked. In such a case, there is no benefit to Mr. Hay that he has a British passport, and Britain is more bound to agreements made with foreign countries than to the obligations it owes its own citizen.

Mercifully, Mr. Hay defeated the EAW issued against him, but this did not stop the Greek authorities. The Greek state believes that it owns all antiquities found within its borders absolutely, and they have charged Mr. Hay with conversion. The example of conversion I was given goes like this: if you ask to borrow my salt-shaker, and I say you may, then you are lawfully in posession of my salt-shaker (notice that it remains my property). However, if you sell my salt-shaker to someone else, you have treated my property as if it were your own and converted it. The Greek prosecution alleges that Mr. Hay was in Greece and stole these objects in 1999, despite the fact that Mr. Hay simply was not there and the fact that the dealer in question testifed that the sale was indeed made in London. Not that it matters- the Greek state has decided that it has jurisdiction over such transactions, despite the fact that everything took place in London.

Mr. Hay was tried in his absence in Greece, having successfully fought (in London) the extradition charges in the EAW. The dealer, who was found not guilty of handling stolen property, testified that these objects were sold to her in London by Mr. Hay. Greek archaeologists testified in turn that the objects discovered in the dealer’s possession could very well have been found in Greece. The first archaeologist at the airport, who would have seen the original pair of packages containing the actual purchases, was not found to give evidence. The Greek archaeologist Mr. Hay’s lawyers brought in as an expert witness was ignored by the judge because they already knew what she would say.

Mr. Hay has been sentenced to three years in a Greek jail, and fined €200,000, the estimated value of the illegal pieces found with the Athenian dealer. He is currently pursuing an appeal, but if he is defeated, Britain is required to extradite him for imprisonment in Greece.

Another account of this can be found in the Antiques Trade Gazette, or on their website here. Greece’s tyrrany in matters antique simply cannot be tolerated, nor can their frankly underdeveloped justice system. I will refrain from discussing my current issues with the European Union’s new status as a legal, rather than strictly trade-based, entity, and from aspects of the debate on who owns antiquity.  I realise that I have quite a meagre number of readers, but I am asking you all to do anything and everything in your power to help Mr. Hay- write to people, tell friends in the media, boycott Greece in some capacity- anything to further his case. This case is a dangerous, precedent-setting affair which requires international attention, not just that of the world of antiquities.

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