The story of the “Lans case”
1. The 16th-century icons were allegedly removed from the wooden iconostasis of the Monastery of Antiphonitis in 1975 and purchased through an Armenian art dealer by an elderly Dutch couple, the Lans, between the years 1975-1977.
2. In ’95, the Lans couple decides to sell the icons through Christie’s. However, Christie’s staff suggest that they refer these to the Cyprus Authorities because of their dubious origin.
3. The Lans ask the Honorary Consul to the Netherlands, Mrs. Tasoula Hadjitofi to advise them of a possible list of stolen artifacts from the occupied territories.
4. Mrs. Hadjitofi is authorized in writing by the late Archbishop Chrysostomos I, to act as coordinator of the Lans case, and appoints Rob Polak, a lawyer, specializing on matters of art and restitution, to confiscate the icons and start litigation in Rotterdam in 1996.
5. For the retrieval of the icons, The Hague Convention of 1954 is evoked for the first time. This international convention, allows property acquired during times of war to be returned. The court case instigates increased media attention and observers from UNESCO follow the case.
6. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus is requested to send a letter to the Dutch government requesting the official position of The Netherlands in this treaty. Former Foreign Minister of Cyprus, Alekos Michaelides, sends the letter to his counterpart, former Minister van Mierlo of The Netherlands. The Dutch government’s position is that although the treaty was signed by the Netherlands, it was not implemented and therefore could not comply.
7. The Dutch Court requests a precedent example of the application of the convention. Hadjitofi approaches the then Minister of Culture of Greece, Evangelos Venizelos, in order to intervene in the civil case of Pervanas in Athens, based on this Convention and setting a precedent. Mr. Venizelos did so, and as a result, the icon of the Enthroned Virgin Mary of Antifonitis, returned to Cyprus in September 1998 by Minister Venizelos himself. The decision of Minister Venizelos was filed in the court of Rotterdam as a precedent.
8. In 1996 the Church of Cyprus continues the procedure of the civil case in the District Court of Rotterdam to regain the icons.
9. Despite the expert witness statement of Byzantinologist Athanasios Papageorgiou, that the icons were originally from the Monastery of Antifonitis, the court decides that due to the statute of limitation, the icons will remain to the Lans and the convention could not be applied.
10. Archbishop Chrysostomos I was closely following the case and had visited The Hague to see the icons in 2001.
11. After Polak’s indication, Hadjitofi lobbied in the Dutch Parliament to point out the necessity of changing the Dutch law, so that countries like Cyprus will not need to fight in the courts to find justice. At that point, the Dutch legislation starts reforming, based on the case of the four icons of Antiphonitis, but 11 years passed by for this to change.
12. Meanwhile, in 2002, the final decision of the civil court is given, whereby due to the statute of limitation, the icons are given to the Lans family.
13. In 2007, five years later, The Netherlands change the legislation, with reference to the case of Cyprus. This opens the path for Cyprus to reclaim the icons.
14. At a ceremony honoring Tasoula Hadjitofi as ‘Woman of Europe’, in her speech, Hadjitofi sends a plea to the Dutch government to return the icons to Cyprus since the Dutch law allowed it and takes the files to Cyprus.
15. In 2009 and 2011, she informs the President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Attorney General urging them to formally request the icons from the Dutch government, based on the change of legislation. In 2011, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Erato Markoulli sends a letter to her Dutch counterpart. The reply came in 2013.
16. Walk of Truth founder Tasoula Hadjitofi, announced the news on The Netherlands’ decision to return the icons, at a Round Table discussion of experts, titled ‘Art Trafficking and Restitution’, which took place at The Hague International Court (Peace Palace) on Monday, 16 September 2013.
17. On 18 September 2013, the ceremony for the delivery of the icons takes place in The Hague, in the presence of Marjan Hammersma, Director General of Culture and Media of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and the Ambassador of Cyprus to The Netherlands, Mr. Kyriacos Kouros.
18. The Lans case is the first case worldwide, that justifies Cyprus after the incorporation into the legal system of a country Member of the European Union, of the provisions of the Hague Convention of 1954 on the return of cultural patrimony acquired during the war. The Netherlands sets an example worldwide for other countries to follow.
19. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is delighted with the decision and welcomes the fact that the four icons can return to Cyprus.
20. The icons were returned to Cyprus on September 20, 2013 and were delivered to the Church of Cyprus on 24 September.