A leading Swiss police chief has been arrested in southern Turkey on charges of trafficking antiquities, facing a hefty fine should he escape a prison term. Last Friday at around noon, as he was leaving Antalya to return to Switzerland at the end of his family vacation, the police chief of the Swiss canton of Valais Christian Varone was detained at the Antalya airport after the police found a valuable artifact in his family’s luggage.
Varone was recently in the news after leading the rescue efforts following a coach crash in his hometown of Valais which killed 28 Belgians, most of whom were children. He had also been planning to enter politics in the upcoming elections as a local candidate in Swiss parliament through the Liberal Party of Switzerland (PLS).
When Varone and his family, including his wife and children and his brother Patrick Varone, tried to leave Antalya at the end of their vacation, the police found a historic artifact with a diameter of nearly 30cm in their luggage. Experts from the Antalya Archeological Museum have confirmed the authenticity of the artifact.
Varone was detained at the airport by the police while his family has returned to Switzerland. Most Swiss newspapers have claimed that the artifact in question was merely a pebble with no material value, but experts and information from the Antalya Archeological Museum, however, suggest that the artifact is much more significant than the Swiss media have made it out to be and is, in fact, a crucial part of a monument taken from a nearby archeological site.
After been detained and questioned by the police, Varone was sent to court where he was arrested. Speaking to Today’s Zaman, local police sources have confirmed that Varone was arrested after the court’s decision based on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property Law No. 2863.
The law dates back to 1983 and aims to prevent the trafficking of antiquities and historic artifacts. Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean regions has hundreds of archeological excavation sites, ancient cities and monumental remnants from both the Greek and Roman periods. Thousands of historic objects were illegally smuggled abroad. The law aimed to eliminate the relaxed judicial regulations in the domain of cultural heritage.
The same sources indicated that most tour companies and participating tourists and visitors coming from abroad are advised not to take possession of anything from any of the archeological sites. Many other similar cases have occurred to tourists in Antalya, police sources told Today’s Zaman.
Contacted by Today’s Zaman, the Swiss Embassy in Ankara declined to comment on the matter. The embassy, however, said it had offered help to the suspect in hiring a lawyer and an interpreter for the proceedings, denying Swiss media reports that Varone and his family had faced communication problems with the Turkish police when they were being questioned.