ATHENS – A Greek-Canadian businessman who made his fortune in plastics said he’ll spend it in a bid to get the stolen Parthenon Marbles returned to Greece, and will fly British lawmakers to Athens in a persuasion campaign.
The British newspaper The Telegraph said that John Lefas, founder of the Ontario company Ingenia Polymers, said he hopes that going to Athens for the Parthenon Project campaign will make them vote to overturn British law so that the marbles can be sent back.
He hired the London public relations firm Pagefield to put together a campaign and he told the paper that, “If we have enough perception, enough support of a certain scale, if we have enough people to believe in it, we have to go through Parliament.”
Lord Vaizey, a former Conservative culture minister, has already taken the trip, and more contacts are understood to have been made in Parliament, where members of the Commons and Lords are being approached, the paper said.
Lord Vaizey said: “I was in Athens recently with the Parthenon Project to understand more about their vision for a “win-win” solution and I fully support their approach. Being pragmatic and forward looking is the only way to resolve such a complicated dispute.”
He added: “Seeing the Acropolis Museum and understanding more about the other unique artifacts that could come to London as part of the cultural exchange has really strengthened my view that a deal is within reach.”
The Acropolis Museum was opened in 2009 as an answer to the British Museum’s assertions that there was no decent place in Athens for the stolen marbles to be shown but it since switched to other excuses to keep them.
Lefas, it was reported, is ready to spend the equivalent of $11.15 million for the project although all attempts to get the marbles back have gone nowhere and the latest effort from the British Museum was to offer them as a loan.
The project, the paper said, openly hopes that an expenses-paid junket – it wasn’t said if that’s legal under British law – with accommodations, wining and dining would aid the case.
The marbles were stolen 200 years earlier by a Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who said he had permission from the ruling Ottoman Occupation, which didn’t own them, to take them. He sold them to the British Museum.
Current legislation prevents the sculptures leaving the British Museum, creating a legal impasse which has frustrated Greece’s many calls for their repatriation, the paper noted.
A DREAM SET IN STONE
Lefas said that he hoped that either a government or private members’ bill could be introduced, and that with enough lawmakers backing the Greek cause and that abill might be voted through amending legislation.
“We have a lot of pull in the UK,” Lefas said. “A lot of pull has to transform into political energy. You have to get enough ‘umph’ to make things happen. I hope it’s going to happen fast,” he said.
But it’s still unclear whether changing the law would make a difference and whether the government could force the British Museum to send back the treasures to the Acropolis Museum, which built a top floor to house them, with a glassed-in view of the Parthenon nearby.
The British Museum Act 1963 prevents ownership of the 2,500-year-old sculptures, or any other artifacts, being transferred from the Museum to another party.
The UK’s Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport has consistently said that amending the law would never be considered which could leave Lefas without a lot of his cash and the latest to fail in the effort to get them back to Greece.
Lefas, 71, a chemical engineer, was born in Thessaloniki and his company has annual revenues of around $100 million and has spent most of his life in Canada, the United States and the UK, it was said.
He said he began researching the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles – which the British still call the Elgin Marbles – as a way to lift morale in Greece when a financial crisis began in 2010.
The British Museum’s offer of a loan stipulates that Greece would have to agree that they belong to the museum and not to Greece and Greece would have to put collateral in the form of other treasures to be displayed in their absence.
Greece’s New Democracy government, which said it won’t sue to force the return and is relying on diplomatic means which have failed for decades, to get them back and would never accept a loan offer.
He also told The Telegraph: “You have to be a dreamer sometimes. But I’m in business – I like to achieve my dreams. I’m getting old, I don’t even buy green bananas. It’s called the Parthenon Project, and a project has a start and finish.”
Lefas said: “I love Greece, and I love Britain, and I wish the best for them both. I want to bring them together with a win-win proposition,” adding that his crusade is based on the Parthenon’s status as a “symbol of the psyche of Greece.”