Skip to main content

From the Geneva Freeport to Egypt: a Review

Arthur Brand has directed my attention to "Sentences slashed in antiquities case", Gulf Times 8 June 2006. It mentioned an allegation relating to the smuggling of "300 rare Egyptian antiquities into Switzerland".

I thought it would be useful to review Egyptian material returned from Switzerland. The media trail goes back to October 2003 ("Egypt hails Swiss decision to return stolen antiquities, urges others to follow suit", World News Connection October 4, 2003). This mentions the return to Egypt of approximately 200 antiquities that had been seized in the Geneva Freeport in August.

The 200 items were handed over to Egyptian authorities in November ("Switzerland hands back seized antiquities to Egypt", Agence France Presse November 28, 2003). The seizure, that took place in August, is discussed:
Three months ago, Egypt asked Swiss authrities to seize the ancient Egyptian treasures at Geneva's customs-free warehouse due to suspicions that people were taking precious artefacts from archeological sites to sell or export illegally.

In October, Cairo announced it had smashed the smuggling ring and arrested 15 Egyptians and one Lebanese. It was also looking for 12 others, including two Swiss, two Germans, a Canadian, and a Kenyan.

During a six-month investigation, the Egyptian authorities learned that the suspects smuggled valuable artefacts from the Pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic Christian periods to Switzerland and France.
The report by the Associated Press suggested that there were approximately 280 items ("Ancient Egyptian artifacts smuggled to Switzerland return home", AP November 30, 2003; repeated "Precious relics returned home: 'Among Egypt's best pieces'. About 280 artifacts were found in a Swiss customs warehouse", The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec) December 1, 2003).
Two mummies as well as sarcophagi ... statues and masks were among the artifacts seized last August in an investigation into the illegal excavation and export of the objects.
The report indicates that they were seized in a warehouse in Geneva.

The trial was covered ("Top Egyptian antiquities smuggler gets 35 years", Agence France Presse April 29, 2004).
The ringleader of an Egyptian antiquities smuggling ring that shipped at least 300 pharaonic and other artefacts to Europe was sentenced Thursday to 35 years in prison, an AFP correspondent said.

Twenty-five other members of the gang, including nine foreigners, were sentenced by the Cairo criminal court from one to 20 years in jail, although some were tried in absentia and are on the run.

The longest sentence was handed down to Tareq Suissi, a businessman and senior official with the National Democratic Party, who was arrested in April and expelled from the ruling party.

He was convicted of stealing, hiding and smuggling precious artefacts from the pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic Christian periods to Switzerland and France, as well as bribing officials and falsifying documents.

He was also convicted of possessing drugs and weapons and money laundering, and further fined several million Egyptian pounds.

Prosecutors had said stolen artefacts were found in Suissi's luxury villa in a Cairo suburb, which prompted a broader investigation.

Among the other defendants were a senior customs official who received 20 years in prison.

Eighteen others -- including nine people from Swizterland, Germany, Kenya and Lebanon who were all tried in absentia -- were each sentenced to 15 years. The other six received between one and 12 years.

Four of the Egyptians were also tried in absentia.

Among other Egyptians tried were customs officials, two police colonels and officials with the Supreme Council of Antiquities from the southern temple city region of Luxor.

The court acquitted five people.

Suissi and the others can appeal their verdicts.
The report added:

Swiss authorities have informed Egypt they will return to Egypt some 300 artefacts, including statues, masks, and two mummies they found in a warehouse in the free zone at Geneva Airport, the prosecutor had said.

Among the seized objects were statues, masks, sarcophagi and mummies.

The smugglers had claimed they were exporting souvenirs from the internationally known tourist bazaar in Cairo's Khan al-Khalili neighborhood when they shipped the antiquities, the prosecutor said.
These 300 items were, presumably, in addition to the 280 or so items returned to Egypt in November 2003. The details also link back to the report in The Gulf Times (June 2006).

In October 2004 a further seizure of material at Heathrow was noted ("Britain returns 619 pieces of stolen Pharaonic artefacts to Egypt", Agence France Presse October 14, 2004). These had apparently arrived via Switzerland. The article then noted the 2003 return of 200 antiquities from Switzerland to Egypt and added,
Earlier, Cairo announced it had cracked the smuggling ring and arrested 15 Egyptians and one Lebanese. It was also looking for 12 others, including two Swiss, two Germans, a Canadian, and a Kenyan.

During a six-month investigation, the Egyptian authorities learned that the suspects smuggled valuable artefacts from the Pharaonic, Islamic and Coptic Christian periods to Switzerland and France.

Comments

trevor dunen said…
Two Australian men have purchased a papyrus from a deceased estate in Western australia which turned out to be real, from the tomb of Tchaenhoy 1100BC. In effect a lost treasure. The papyrus was found with another tourist papyrus which had been specifically drawn to hide the real papyrus when placed over the top of it in a frame. The papyrus was also found with a painting by Vlase Zanalis called "The Miner" which turned out to be a famous painting owned by Claude de Bernales a famous Mining entrepeneur from France who supplied the finance to the Kalgoorlie gold mines in Western australia in the early 1900's. Claude de Bernales father was a Basque General living in France in the mid 1800's, the French military controlled all Egyptian antiquities at the time and somehow this piece came into his hands and ended up in his sons estate. See the pictures of the real thing at http://viewmorepics.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewPicture&friendID=434946894&albumId=846273. The original "Book of the dead"- "Judgement Scene" of Tchaenhouy has had a signature added and two false cartouches at either end to hide it and to make it seem like a tourist item. The other fake papyrus was drawn to hide it, the cartouches at either end fit into each other as do the heiroglyphics within them, also the male and female figure in the main scene exactly cover all the figures and heiroglyphics at the top in the main scene of the real Tchaenhouy papyrus. Tchaenhouy was a Pharoah around 1100 BCE and ruled between the 2oth and 21st dynasty. This find was reported in "The Sunday Times" in Western Australia in March 2007. The find is being examined and tested forensically by Dr. R. John Watling of the University of Western Australia.

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…

Metropolitan Museum of Art hands over Paestan krater

In May 2014 I commented on a Paestan krater acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after it had been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in photographic images seized from Giacomo Medici. Tsirogiannis published his full concerns in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, but it has taken a further three years for the museum to respond.

The krater showing Dionysos in a hand-drawn cart was purchased in 1989 from the Bothmer Purchase Fund (details from the Museum's website, inv. 1989.11.4). The krater surfaced through Sotheby's New York in June 1989.

It is unclear who consigned the krater to Sotheby's New York.

It has now been revealed that the krater has been handed over to the US authorities after a warrant had been issued (Tom Mashberg, "Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum on Suspicion It Was Looted", New York Times July 31, 2018).

It appears that the museum did make an attempt to resolve the case in December 2016. Mashberg notes:
The Met, for its par…