GREECE has ruled out making a legal challenge to reclaim the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum, rejecting the advice of international lawyers.
The country’s culture minister Nikos Xydakis said Greece would instead pursue a “diplomatic and political” approach to return the sculptures.
In doing so, he snubbed the counsel of lawyers including Amal Clooney and QC Geoffrey Robertson, who had helped prepare a 150-page report recommending Athens take its case to the International Court of Justice.
This would have been a major escalation in the long-running campaign to have the artefacts returned.
However, in an unexpected move, Mr Xydakis told Greek TV that “one cannot just go to court over whatever issue. Besides, in international courts the outcome is uncertain.”
Dennis Menos, of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, said the decision by the new government in Athens had “devastated the Greek position”.
He said: “I’m sorry that this statement was made. Court action was always an option and now that has been eliminated.”
Greek and British authorities have long fought over the collection of 5th-century BC sculptures taken from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin to decorate his mansion in the early 19th century.
The British Parliament eventually bought the collection in 1816 and presented it to the museum.
Greece has been demanding the return of the marbles for the past 30 years, and last year commissioned a team including Ms Clooney, wife of the actor George Clooney, to assess its legal options.
The team suggested that Greece make a formal complaint, then go to the international court where there would be a “75 to 80 per cent chance” of success.
A spokesman for the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport under new Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said: “The Parthenon sculptures were acquired legally in accordance with the law of the time and the British Museum is the rightful owner.”
In December, Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras hit out at the museum’s loan of one of the sculptures to Russia, calling it an “affront” to the Greek people and insisting that the collection had been “looted” from the Parthenon.
Museum director Neil MacGregor indicated that he would be willing to consider a similar loan of one of the statues to Greece – but only if the authorities promised to eventually return it to the London establishment.