Coins' Fate Rests with U.S. Judge Turkey Says Antiquities-Worth $10 Million-Were Illegally Taken

Article excerpt

An intricate tale describes how ancient coins worth millions made it from the hands of a poor Turkish television repairman into the investment portfolio of a Massachusetts multimillionaire.

The ending is up to a U.S. district judge, who must decide the rightful owner of what Turkey says is the "Elmali Hoard," more than 1,800 ancient Greek silver coins worth $10 million.

Turkey claims smugglers illegally whisked the coins away to West Germany, where an antiques dealer sold them to industrialist William I. Koch of Dover, Mass., and his partners. Koch is estimated by Forbes Magazine to be worth $600 million.

During a four-day hearing in January, attorneys for Turkey said the nation controls the excavation of antiquities and claims any found on Turkish soil this century. Koch's attorney denied that the coins had been excavated in Turkey. Both sides agree the 2,400-year-old hoard is particularly precious because it contains 13 decadrachms, the rarest existing coin from classical Athens.

A decision from U.S. District Judge Walter J. Skinner isn't expected for several months.

The story begins with Bayrum Sungur, who in a signed confession to Turkish police describes himself as a poor, junior high school dropout who learned to repair radios and television sets from his brother-in-law. He also learned to repair metal detectors.

In April 1984, he persuaded an antiques dealer looking for a metal detector for an excavation to take him along. …