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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 00:28 GMT
Auctioneers defy Greek government
One of the lots: A carved hard stone miniature kangaroo by Faberge
The collection includes valuable pieces by Faberge
An auction of Greek royal treasures has gone ahead in London despite protests by the Greek authorities who contest the ownership of the items for sale.

The auction, which began at Christie's on Wednesday, raised $14m (7.1m) on its first day, exceeding expectations.

Greece asked the auction house to halt the sale, warning buyers could face legal action if it found the lots had been illegally exported from Greece.

On offer were more than 850 items once owned by King George I of Greece.

King George ruled from 1863 to 1913. His collection includes antique silverware, paintings, Chinese jade and Faberge items from the former royal estate in Tatoi, north of Athens.

Ownership denied

Greek Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis told buyers to think carefully.

"If someone buys something that proves to be illegal, the state will turn both against Christie's and the buyer," he told state TV.

He said Greece had asked the British courts to force the auction house to disclose where it obtained the pieces.

Greece's former King Constantine II (file photo)
The former king denies he is the seller of the antiquities

The exiled King Constantine of Greece, who lives in London, was allowed to export some heirlooms in 1991, but he has denied that he is the unidentified seller.

Greece abolished the monarchy in 1973, but in 1991 King Constantine was allowed to remove heirlooms from the Tatoi estate, which was then confiscated in 1994.

The royal family said it sold the collection in 1991.

'Conclusive evidence'

Before the auction, Christie's said all the items had been legally obtained and in a statement said it saw "no reason for the sale not to go ahead as planned".

A nephrite clock up for sale
King Constantine removed the pieces from Greece in 1991

It said that Mr Voulgarakis himself told parliament earlier in January that the export of the items had been allowed.

And in a statement on his website on Monday, King Constantine said that "conclusive evidence" concerning the legality of exporting the items had been "repeatedly presented".

The auction house also said it was surprised by the last-minute request, given that the sale was announced almost two months ago.

But Victoria Solomonides, Greece's cultural attache in London, told the BBC that this was standard practice.

"If you go to court say 10 days before the sale, there is always a danger that the artefacts will leave the country," she said.

In recent years, Greece has fought hard to repatriate antiquities it says were taken illegally.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Some of the royal treasures up for auction



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