I noticed that the auction house has had to take similar eleventh hour action last week when Egypt challenged the sale of lot 99:
An Egyptian carved limestone relief fragmentAFP ("Egypt secures auction pullout for ancient artefact", April 30, 2008) has reported that lot 99 from the sale of antiquities on May 1, 2008 had to be withdrawn:
Late Period, 26th Dynasty, circa 665-525 B.C.
With six vertical columns of blue-filled hieroglyphs, column 1: about journeying by water, column 2: 'horizon. Oh Osiris supervisor of the female followers [of?]', column 3: 'Nitikret (Nitocris) may she live Mutirdais', column 4: 'true of voice, ie. justified...', column five: '...gods fear...', column 6: unintelligible, 11¾in (32.5cm) diam, mounted
Estimate: £3,000 - 4,000
Egyptian Culture Minister Faruq Hosni said in a statement that he had asked for the 2,500-year-old carved limestone relief to be withdrawn from Bonhams' London sale, set to take place on Thursday, because it was stolen.Julian Rup, speaking for Bonhams, said:
Hosni said the ministry had no idea the piece, from Egypt's ancient city of Luxor, was missing until they saw it in the catalogue.
Apparently the buyer bought it in good faith. We work hand in hand with the police and they are satisfied that the buyer bought it in good faith.How could the "buyer" (I presume the vendor) have bought it in good faith if the catalogue entry says that the present owner had inherited it from his father? Is the vendor in reality "an Australian private collector who began collecting in the 1940s whilst working in the merchant navy"? Will the relief fragment be returned to Egypt or the vendor?
Negotiations will begin and it will either stay with the current owner or be repatriated but we are not selling it.
This story seems to have been unreported in the British media. However it does raise questions about the due diligence process conducted by Bonhams.
Has the time come for auction houses to improve their levels of transparency? Who is this anonymous seafaring Australian private collector? Should the present proprietor of the object be named?