Northampton and Christie’s insist on Sekhemka sale, claim Egypt approves

Amer Sultan from London, Wednesday 9 Jul 2014

While Egyptian officials denounce the controversial sale and work on preventing it, UK local council claims the move has long been endorsed by Egypt as legal and insists the sale is on

The statue, of Egyptian scribe Sekhemka

Leading auction house Christie’s and the UK’s Northampton Borough Council (NBC) have insisted to proceed on Thursday with the sale of Sekhemka, a 4,000-year-old Ancient Egyptian statue, despite strong objections from Egyptian officials.

Depicting a court official, the statue is valued at between £4 million and £6 million.

A spokeswoman for the NBC has said that Egypt had no right to reclaim the statue, adding that “we contacted the Egyptian government two years ago regarding our plans to sell Sekhemka.

“According to UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, Egypt has no right to claim the recovery of the statue, as the statue left Egypt before this convention was put in place and this was confirmed by the Egyptian Government on June 15,” the spokeswoman said.

However, Egyptian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Ashraf El-Kholy confirmed that, to his knowledge, Egypt had not endorsed the sale. He told Ahram Online that Egypt insists on recovering the invaluable statue. He has also called on Christie’s to delay the sale at least until Egypt concludes its negotiations with the NBC.

Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh El-Damati had asked the Egyptian Embassy in London to take all legal procedures to prevent the sale, which he described as incompatible with the values and role of museums worldwide.

Christie’s, however, insists there is no legal reason to stop the sale.

"The sale of this item will go ahead on Thursday, as instructed by its owner, the Northampton Borough Council,” a spokesman told Ahram Online.

Christie’s believes that as long as there is no ownership dispute, the sale would be legal, saying they would welcome bids from parties wishing to put Sekhemka on public view from Egypt, but there are no grounds to postpone the sale itself.

“A Christie's representative discussed this during a helpful and cooperative discussion with the Egyptian Embassy yesterday", the spokesman said.

It is understood that the sale of the statue will help fund a £14m extension to the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

El-Damati has called on the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to intervene on the grounds that the sale contradicts with the council’s ethics.

It is reported that the statue was acquired in 1850 by Spencer Compton, the second Marquis of Northampton, and was later presented to the museum by his son.

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