Egypt's Foreign Ministry issued a statement early Wednesday refuting recent reports that a cache of what appear to be ancient Egyptian artefacts seized by Italian authorities were found in a container belonging to the Egyptian embassy in Rome.
Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu-Zeid explained that the Italian Antiquities and Tourism Police informed the Egyptian embassy in Rome on 14 March that they had seized 23,700 artefacts, including 118 ancient Egyptian items enclosed inside a diplomatic container.
"The Egyptian embassy immediately sent a CD containing images of the artefacts to the cultural department at the Foreign Ministry in Cairo to brief the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and verify their authenticity, and to respond to the inquiries of the Italian officials in order to complete the investigation," the statement by Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that the Egyptian embassy in Rome also contacted the deputy commander of the Italian Tourism and Antiquities Police, as well as the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to clarify whether the container originated from the port of Alexandria or only passed through the port on its way to Italy.
"The Italian side reported that their contacts in the customs administration at the port indicated the artefacts were found last year and the shipment did not belong to an Egyptian diplomat but to an Italian citizen," the statement added.
Italian officials also promised to provide further clarifications on the container's departure date and the exporting party at the earliest possible opportunity.
"The Egyptian Foreign Ministry is following up with the Italian side through the Egyptian embassy in Rome to uncover all details related to the incident and to hold accountable those responsible for smuggling the Egyptian artefacts, if their authenticity is indeed proven," the statement concluded.
On Wednesday, Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry’s repatriation department, said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported the incident to the Ministry of Antiquities, which assigned a special archaeological committee to confirm the authenticity of the seized artefacts by examining their photos.
Abdel-Gawad said that the objects were stolen from illegal excavation sites, as there is no record of them existing in any Egyptian museum or store gallery.