Greek Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos resigned last night after armed robbers stole more than 60 ancient objects of “incalculable” value from a museum in Olympia.
Sixty-eight artefacts were taken from a museum dedicated to the ancient Olympic Games after two masked men immobilised the sole female guard as she arrived to take over the morning shift.
“There were two of them, and they had a gun,” Olympia Mayor Thymios Kotzias told Flash Radio. “They immobilised the guard as the shift changed at 7am (4pm AEDT), having previously knocked out the alarm. We must wait and see what the local archaeology supervisor will say but the items were of incalculable value.”
A government source said Mr Geroulanos had submitted his resignation but it was not immediately clear if it had been accepted by Prime Minister Lucas Papademos. Olympia, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.
The incident occurred at the town’s second museum, which showcases nearly 500 objects related to the Games, such as clay vessels and bronze discs used in the events, stone tablets and bronze statues of athletes.
Mr Kotzias said no security staff were present between 6am and 7am, when the building is guarded by an electronic alarm.
“The museum had never been targeted before,” he said.
This is the second major theft to embarrass Greek culture officials in a month as the country grapples with its debt crisis.
In January, a painting gifted by Spanish-born master Pablo Picasso to Greece was stolen from the Athens National Gallery along with two other important artworks by Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian and 16th century Italian painter Guglielmo Caccia, better known as Moncalvo.
In that case, the thief or thieves, knocked out the alarm system and forced open a balcony door at the back of the building, which is located across from one of Athens’ top hotels. The gallery was on reduced security staffing owing to a strike.
Greece’s Culture Ministry, along with most state departments, has suffered spending cuts under austerity measures imposed by the government.