Exclusive: Britain's largest seize of stolen artefacts since Egypt's revolution

Ahram Online, London , Sunday 5 May 2013

Ahram Online gets an exclusive on the tale of the arrest of a UK-based seller suspected of looting Egyptian antiquities


British police arrest a UK-based businessman on suspicion of looting Egyptian antiquities.

The Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Squad (AAS) made the arrest on Friday, 3 May when international arts auction house, Christie's, reported that it had identified some antiquities which are almost certainly stolen from Egypt recently.

This is one of the biggest operations of its kind since the Egyptian revolution exploded in 2011, well-informed sources confirm to Ahram Online.

Christie's experts, the British museum's Egyptology department, the Egyptian embassy in London and the Art Loss Register worked closely for weeks to identify six stolen objects. The AAS is now trying to determine how these objects left Egypt, how the seller came to possess them and who his accomplices are.

Ahram Online understands that the seller (now in custody) claims he had inherited the Egyptian objects from his uncle.

He told the international auctioneer that his uncle served in Egypt during WWII and stayed on for a few years before returning to the UK in the '50s.

These objects were due to be sold at a Christie's auction on 2 May in London.

"Christie's works closely with international authorities and organisations towards our shared objective of preventing the illicit trade in improperly exported or stolen works of art," Christie's Director of Communications Matthew Paton tells Ahram Online. Paton pledged extra vigilance considering Egyptian antiquities authorities' concerns after the 2011 revolution and also to do their utmost to get these objects back to Egypt.

He also emphasised that Christie's believes in strict internal policies to thoroughly research the provenance of any item consigned for sale.

The Egyptian Embassy in London confirmed to Ahram Online it is in constant contact with the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities in order to file the proper documents to repatriate the stolen antiquities.

One of the stolen objects is a recent find from Amenhotep III in Western Thebes. Made of Egyptian red granite, the relief fragment depicts a Nubian prisoner, facing right, with short hair and wearing heavy hooped earrings and a collar necklace (1550 - 1069 BC).

Another is an Egyptian painted limestone relief fragment depicting a male figure with his head facing left. Experts say it is very likely to have originated from a recently-rediscovered and excavated tomb, again in Thebes.

Egyptian Ambassador to the UK Ashraf El-kholy praised Christie's vigilance and willingness to investigate the provenance of the Egyptian objects.   

"Without their support and cooperation, we would not have been able to spot and get these invaluable antiquities back," he told Ahram Online.

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