Antiquities ministry denies any misappropriation of public funds using artefacts

Nevine El-Aref , Monday 20 Jun 2011

An official from the antiquities ministry alleges that the independent press and political opponents are behind a rumour campaign to settle old scores

the mask of tutankhamun

On Sunday, the Public Funds Prosecution investigated accusations made by archaeologist Nour Abdel Samad that former First Lady Suzanne Mubarak and Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass abused their official government positions and misappropriated public funds in the form of national artefacts.

Hawass had said during a talk show that a Tutankhamun exhibition collected $17 million in donations for Suzanne Mubarak’s charity fund which Abdel Samad said was illegal as the charity is privately owned.

The archaeologist also accused Hawass of illegally signing a contract with the National Geographical Society to exhibit unique Egyptian artefacts in the United States and Australia.

The accusation points to the contract which allowed artefacts from the Tutankhamun collection to be sent to Minnesota on an exhibition in which runs until 15 April 2012 without documenting the number or types of the pieces. It also said that the Egyptian Museum sent 143 artefacts to Washington between 30 July and 14 October 2002 which have not yet been returned.

In a YouTube interview with Abdel Samad on Al-Wafd newspaper’s website, the archaeologist stated that the crime is that there were so many projects headed by the antiquities authority, costing billions of Egyptian pounds, which in the end turned out to be completely fictitious. As a result, the antiquities authority's current bank balance is currently nil. Abdel Samad stressed that the ministry of culture, then headed by Farouk Hosni, used to be one of the richest ministries of the state.

According to the prosecutor-general, however, the accusations have proven untrue.

Abdel Samad is one of two people who have submitted accusations against the ministry of state for antiquities (MSA) and its minister, Zahi Hawass. Since the revolution, the two have charged that Hawass is smuggling Egypt’s antiquities on behalf of former president Hosni Mubarak’s family.

Dozens of disciplinary decisions, according to documents uncovered by Ahram Online, were taken against Abdel Samad. The archaeologist was suspended from duty and eventually sent before a disciplinary tribunal.

Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, general supervisor of the office of the MSA, asserted that all accusations against Hawass and Mrs Mubarak are unfounded and untrue. Speaking to Ahram Online, the MSA official alleged that there is an organised campaign bent on broadcasting false information about Egyptian antiquities in order to abuse Egypt’s international reputation (revealing its inability to preserve its heritage), achieve personal gains and settle personal scores.

“All these allegations and lies have no basis in truth,” Abdel Maqsoud stated, adding that the MSA has all the documents in needs to prove that all the collection that was sent abroad for temporary exhibitions are back except the two Tutankhamun exhibitions scheduled last until 2012.

He explained that all the revenue from Tutankhamun's exhibition was allocated to the construction of the Grand Egyptian Museum overlooking the Giza Plateau as well as the Children’s Archaeological Museum in Heliopolis, refuting that the proceeds were funnelled into Suzanne Mubarak's charity fund as Abdel Samad claims.

The accusation published in independent and opposition newspapers about the travel without return of antiquities exhibitions abroad, including those of Tutankhamun’s collection, according to the MSA official, is untrue. He asserted that all archaeological exhibitions abroad cannot leave the country haphazardly, but instead, travel according to rules and regulations and through ministerial decrees, approving the passage of such exhibitions.

According to the ministerial decree, Abdel Maqsoud stated, the duration of the Tutankhamun exhibition, which is currently in Melbourne, Australia, is five years. The returns from the latter exhibition, as put by Abdel Maqsoud, reached $100 million and have contributed to many archaeological projects carried out by the MSA.

The state official claimed that the MSA is under a campaign of abuse and that all the material published in the news is false and unfounded. “The MSA has nothing to hide and it is ready to respond to all false allegations with evidence and proof, showing transparency Egypt’s archaeological work,” Abdel Maqsoud told Ahram Online.

Abdel Maqsoud claimed as rumour the smuggling of antiquities from archaeological sites through helicopters, an allegation which was published in Al-Wafd newspaper, quoting archaeologist Abdel Halim Noureddin. Noureddin, on his part, denied such a quote, stating that he was misquoted. Furthermore, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces have also denied such reports.

Another report, the MSA official denied as rumour, concerned the absence of 4,200 pieces from the Islamic Museum as well as the theft of a necklace form the Alexandria Jewellery Museum. The prosecutor-general as also refuted these allegations following an investigation into them.

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