Tutankhamun relic sells for $6 mn in London despite Egyptian outcry

In this Thursday, March 31, 2016 file photo, an Egyptian guard walks out of King Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 04 July 2019

Tutankhamun relic sells for $6 mn in London despite Egyptian outcry

  • Christie’s auction house sold the relic for £4,746,250
  • Angry Egyptian officials wanted Thursday’s sale halted and the treasure returned

LONDON: A 3,000-year-old quartzite head of Egyptian “Boy King” Tutankhamun was auctioned off for $6 million on Thursday in London despite an outcry from Cairo.
Christie’s auction house sold the 28.5-centimeter (11-inch) relic for £4,746,250 ($5,970,000, 5,290,000 euros) at one of its most controversial auctions in years.
No information about the buyer was disclosed.
The famous pharaoh’s finely-chiselled face — its calm eyes and puffed lips emoting a sense of eternal peace — came from the private Resandro Collection of ancient art that Christie’s last auctioned off 2016 for £3 million.
But angry Egyptian officials wanted Thursday’s sale halted and the treasure returned.
Christie’s decision “contradicts international agreements and conventions,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday..
Former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass told AFP that the piece appears to have been “stolen” in the 1970s from the Karnak Temple complex just north of Luxor.
“We think it left Egypt after 1970 because in that time other artefacts were stolen from Karnak Temple,” Hawass said.
Christie’s countered that Egypt had never before expressed the same level of concern about an item whose existence has been “well known and exhibited publicly” for many years.
“The object is not, and has not been, the subject of an investigation,” it said in a statement to AFP.
The auction house has published a chronology of how the relic changed hands between European art dealers over the past 50 years.
Its oldest attribution from 1973-74 places it in the collection of Prince Wilhelm of Thurn and Taxi in modern-day Germany.
Yet that account was called into doubt by a report from the Live Science news site last month suggesting that Wilhelm never owned the piece.
Wilhelm was “not a very art-interested person,” his niece Daria told the news site.
A journalist and art historian who knew Wilhelm told Live Science site that the prince had no arts collection at all.
Tutankhamun is thought to have become a pharaoh at the age of nine and to have died about 10 years later.
His rule would have probably passed without notice were it not for the 1922 discovery by Britain’s Howard Carter of his nearly intact tomb.
The lavish find revived interest in ancient Egypt and set the stage for subsequent battles over ownership of cultural masterpieces unearthed in colonial times.
Tutankhamun became commonly known as King Tut and made into the subject of popular songs and films.
International conventions and the British government’s own guidance restrict the sale of works that were known to have been stolen or illegally dug up.
The British Museum has been wrangling for decades with Greece over its remarkable room full of marble Parthenon friezes and sculptures.
Egypt’s own campaign to recover lost art gained momentum after numerous works went missing during the looting that accompanied former president Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power in 2011.
Cairo has managed to regain hundreds of looted and stolen artefacts by working with both auction houses and international cultural groups.
But Egypt has been unable to substantiate its case with firm proof that the Tutankhamun bust was illegally obtained.
Christie’s told AFP that it would “not sell any work where there isn’t clear title of ownership.”


8 caught after Baghdad breakout from police: ministry

Updated 04 August 2019

8 caught after Baghdad breakout from police: ministry

  • The 15 suspected members of a drug trafficking network escaped custody on Saturday
  • The interior ministry said eight had been recaptured

BAGHDAD: Eight out of 15 drug trafficking suspects have been recaptured after escaping custody in a Baghdad police station, Iraq’s interior ministry said, as the breakout prompted several dismissals.
“The search continues to find the others,” a police officer said, on condition of anonymity.
The 15 suspected members of a drug trafficking network escaped custody on Saturday, after having “insulted the police, then beaten them,” according to a security services official.
The interior ministry said eight had been recaptured without specifying where they were being held.
Baghdad’s police chief and the heads of Al-Russafa police department in the capital’s east and the station where the suspects pulled off their escape have all been fired, the ministry said.
On social media, images of videosurveillance purported to be from the police station shows men in civilian clothing running through a door, apparently without any resistance.
No one in uniform is visible in the footage.
Prison security is a critical issue in Iraq, where escapes are not uncommon, whether by violence or bribery.
Iraq is the 12th most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International, and experts have pointed to high levels of corruption in its prisons.
During the insurrection and sectarian violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion, hundreds of militants were able to escape from prison.
Iraq is currently seeking to try thousands of local and foreign jihadists, while keeping them in overcrowded prisons.
Many prisons have been rendered unusable by repeated conflicts.
The sale and use of drugs have been booming in Iraq. Authorities regularly announce the seizure of narcotics and the arrest of traffickers, particularly along the border with Iran.