Friday, 10 May 2013

UK Antiquities Seller Bailed (Ahram)

According to Al-Ahram, a man in his early sixties was held in a northeast London police station for several days after arrest arrested on 3 May "on suspicion of looting Egyptian antiquities" and "on suspicion of handling stolen goods, tax and fraud offences”. The newspaper claims he was released on bail on [or before] 10th May.
The man is due to return to the police station in North-east London in early August for further questioning, the police said.
There is an odd phrase used: "The spokeswoman, however, declined to confirm the suspect's nationality, only revealing he is a UK-based man in his early sixties". Neither is it clear whether the man is a dealer or a collector selling part of his collection.

Also notable is the statement that "The arrest was made after the international arts auction house, Christie's, reported that it had identified some antiquities which were almost certainly stolen from Egypt recently". This raises the question of how, since quite a lot of the Egyptian stuff they sell has similar 'provenances' stated as the ones recently withdrawn. What made this group so 'special'? One of the six is said to be most likely from a "newly-dicovered tomb", and begs the question whether any of these items figured in the Art Loss Register before the sale was put together. If not, how were the auctioneer able to spot the stolen goods AFTER it had accepted them for auction? (Are they in the habit of putting items in their catalogues before they have checked every possible source of information to ascertain that the items it sells are 100% kosher? These objects were on offer in the auction catalogue until they were withdrawn at the last moment just before the sale, when it was reported at the time (oddly enough in an article which was subsequently deleted) that this had been at the request of the Egyptians, who had identified one of the objects as among those stolen from the excavations in Luxor of the Amenhotep III temple. Perhaps in some way this seller is related to the gang which was responsible for this crime? I note the title of the article relates to "one of the main suspects". So there are more?

In any case, this would be the first time, as far as I am aware that the withdrawal of an item or items from a Christie's auction resulted in a near-immediate arrest of the seller (I am sure somebody can correct me if that is not the case). One wonders on what grounds such an arrest could be made, and why.  The newspaper quotes Christie's:
Meanwhile, Christie's expects this case will show that there should not be tolerance with this kind of illegitimate trade. ”We hope that this case - and the consequences - will send a strong message to those engaged in the illicit trade," Christie's Director of Communications Matthew Paton told Ahram Online. Paton also praised the British Museum for "its crucial role in identifying the stolen antiquities." He added his company will hold the stolen antiquities till it returns it back to its owner [Egypt] after the legal settlement of the case.
So, they are not evidence then (since when has the Metropolitan Police kept the evidence from cases under investigation in the stores of commercial companies)? By what right is Christie's holding the private property of the unnamed gentleman?

A final oddity is that this information is still only being published by one foreign newspaper, Al-Ahram. Brits who want to find out what is happening in the heart of the nation at the moment are having to rely on what an Egyptian newspaper, not renowned for accurate and informed reporting in antiquities matters, has to say. So far the disappearance of a fellow collector from the May sunlight into some dark Northeast London police cell for a week has failed to attract comment from either the British press or more tellingly, collectors' forums. The only 'news' on this is social media snippets cut-and-pasted from Al Ahram.

Is there any connection between the appearance (and disappearance) of these stores in an Egyptian newspaper (and, so far, no independent source) and the cabinet reshuffle coincident in timing which saw the fourth post-Revolution Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities replaced by a fifth?

Anon [Ahram Online], 'Britain's Egyptian antiquities investigation: Main suspect bailed', Ahram online 10 May 2013.

One to watch.

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