Last week’s foiling by police of an attempt to smuggle 269 artifacts out of Egypt was just the latest in a series of such incidents.
One such attempt that succeeded was in late 2018. Police in the Italian city of Naples said they had seized 23,700 smuggled artifacts, including 118 that were smuggled in a container from Egypt’s port city of Alexandria to the southern Italian port of Salerno.
At the time, Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, director general of the Egyptian Retrieved Artifacts Department, said the artifacts were stolen as a result of illegal excavations.
Investigations revealed that the perpetrator was Ladislav Otakar Skakal, Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor.
In January, an Egyptian court sentenced him to 30 years in absentia, since he had already left the country.
Egyptian authorities also found many artifacts in Skakal’s home in Cairo, as well as in a safe he was renting in a private bank.
At the same time, the Kuwaiti General Administration of Customs said it had seized a Pharaonic sarcophagus lid that was smuggled inside a sofa from Cairo airport.
In August 2018, the Antiquities Ministry said 32,638 artifacts had been lost in the last 50 years.
Egypt has retrieved 1,000 artifacts from 10 countries in the last three years, the ministry added.
Mohamed El-Kahlawy, head of the General Union of Arab Archaeologists, said the 2011 revolution in Egypt caused an unstable security situation that paved the way for more illegal excavations and thefts of artifacts.
From 2011 to 2014, Egypt lost $3 billion from the theft of artifacts from archaeological sites, museums and places of worship, according to the Washington-based group Alliance Archaeology.
“Christie’s auction house sells Egyptian antiquities in public,” said Egyptian artifacts expert Bassam El-Shammaa.
Researcher Monica Hanna said Egyptian monument warehouses are “full of unregistered artifacts that are being sold.”
Unregistered artifacts are impossible to retrieve. Egyptian artifacts can be purchased via online sites, including eBay.
Other sites display videos of Pharaonic tombs for those interested in taking part in excavation work. Such videos have hundreds of thousands of views.
Egypt’s Law on the Protection of Antiquities stipulates 25 years in jail for those found guilty of smuggling artifacts. There is no statute of limitations.
Anyone found guilty of smuggling an artifact outside Egypt could be fined between 1 million Egyptian pounds ($63,380) and 7 million.
The tools, equipment, machines and cars used in the process, as well as the stolen artifacts, are confiscated by the Supreme Council for Antiquities.
The law stipulates 10 years in jail for anyone who secretly carries out digging or hides an artifact or part of it with the intention of smuggling it.
It also stipulates imprisonment of between three and seven years, as well as a fine of no less than 500,000 Egyptian pounds, for destroying, deliberately damaging, mutilating or changing an artifact’s original features, and deliberately separating parts of a transferred or permanently placed monument.
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