Thursday, 22 January 2009

The Sofia Detention: Comment from Phoenix Ancient Art

I have been contacted by a representative of Phoenix Ancient Art who has kindly sent me a statement of facts relating to the recent detention of Ali Aboutaam in Sofia.

I reproduce it here with permission from the representative. (I note that the statement has not been placed in the press release section of Phoenix Ancient Art's website.)

The link to the Reuters story can be found here.


Last week, Reuters wrote a highly misleading story that alleged wrongdoing by Ali Aboutaam in an old legal case brought against him and others in Egypt. The story was misleading in two very serious ways:

First, it did not report what ultimately happened to Ali in Bulgaria -- Ali was allowed to return home to Switzerland after Bulgarian courts determined, after a full hearing, that Egypt’s legal procedures were seriously deficient and that Ali never had a chance to challenge the charges against him.

Second, the article did not mention that Egyptian courts threw out the charge in which Ali was named.

The plain, indisputable facts are as follows.

When Ali traveled to Bulgaria recently, he was detained until Bulgaria could evaluate Egypt's request to extradite Ali on a very old charge of smuggling. Ali was not in jail; he was restricted to Bulgaria and lived at his family's home. After a thorough evaluation of the Egyptian request, Bulgarian courts rejected it as totally unacceptable. Bulgaria reached this decision based on its explicit finding that the Egyptian procedures by which Ali's conviction had been obtained fell below the most basic protections of any civilized nation. Ali was convicted without being told of the charge against him, without being present and without even having legal representation. In addition, Bulgaria found that it could not even fully understand what Ali was charged with.

Not only was Egypt's request firmly rejected -- an extremely unusual action in extradition law -- but on top of that, it became clear that Egypt had not told Bulgaria that Egypt's own courts exonerated the people who were charged with Ali and had been told of the charges. In other words, the people who supposedly agreed with Ali to improperly trade in antiquities but who were told of the charges and, being in Egypt, went to trial, were all ultimately found not guilty. In addition, the Egyptian courts criticized the Egyptian prosecution as biased. A translation of the Egyptian court’s decision reads, in part: “The judgment [against Ali Aboutaam] became an excuse by the prosecutor to gain the advantage he wanted, in a matter which would be more suitable to refuse, according to the evidence...[T]he appealed judgment was made because the district attorney’s office had presented all its supporting evidence for the accusations and analyzed this accusatory evidence in detail one after the other, and ignored all the evidence that indicated innocence.”

So, although you would never have known this from the Reuters story:
  • Ali is free and is at home in Switzerland after Bulgaria rejected Egypt's request.
  • Ali 's detention in Bulgaria (a detention where he could travel within Bulgaria) was not based on any finding of guilt but, instead, on Bulgaria having to hold him until it could evaluate and ultimately reject Egypt's request.
  • Ali’s co-defendants who stood trial in Egypt were ultimately ACQUITTED for lack of evidence to support Egypt’s claims .
At Phoenix Ancient Art, we continue to pride ourselves on our transparency and dedication to complying with and working with law enforcement to ensure the integrity of this trade in all nations.

We appreciate the willingess of Phoenix Ancient Art to share this statement with a wider public.


s said...

"Ali’s co-defendants who stood trial in Egypt were ultimately ACQUITTED for lack of evidence to support Egypt’s claims"

well... but Ali Aboutaam was not acquitted, wasn't he? The facts, always the facts...

An Art Lover said...

People follow this dealer with such interest for 2 reasons: jealousy and ignorance regarding how the antiquities and archeology works. Very sad. American Newspapers, when they unfairly demonise dealers and exaggerate the illicit antiquities market, they fail to recognise the contribution made by dealers such as this man to: encourgaing interest amongst scholars, students, generous donars etc. We would rather listen to the draconian laws and teams in Egypt and Italy that would prefer to see no egyptian objects in American museums because it is not in their financial interest!!!!!!! Stop being naive people, focus on facts not headlines.

David Gill said...

Dear Art Lover
Thank you for your comment. What are the sources for antiquities emerging on the market? Do they materialise in a gallery?
Archaeologists are witnessing extensive looting of archaeological sites. So perhaps we are placing an emphasis on the facts ...
Best wishes

Mask said...

Mr. Aboutaam was sentenced in absentia to 15 years imprisonment in Egypt in 2004, accused of aiding and abetting in the smuggling of antiquities. This sentence was handed down following the trial of several Egyptian nationals and nine international associates.


Two books with facts and a clear understanding that these Dealers are bad for our reputation.
They should not be allow to have a gallery or do any show.
Shall we underline again that PHOENIX ANCIENT ART had to give back to Italy not one or two but OVER 700 objects from their Geneva gallery !
They are also forbiden from BFAA because of their lack of provenance in lots of pieces.

The put shame on the hard work of others.
They do not represent the dealers in this field.
They should just be banned to sell any antiquity for the rest of their life.

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