Egypt grapples with smuggling of artifacts

There has been a rise in attempts to smuggle artifacts out of Egypt recently. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 February 2020

Egypt grapples with smuggling of artifacts

  • Egypt’s Law on the Protection of Antiquities stipulates 25 years in jail for those found guilty of smuggling artifacts
  • Anyone found guilty of smuggling an artifact outside Egypt could be fined between 1 million Egyptian pounds ($63,380) and 7 million

CAIRO: 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.


Libya’s Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

Updated 05 June 2020

Libya’s Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

  • Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna
  • The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord

TRIPOLI: Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government captured the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli on Friday, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive on the capital.
Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army, LNA, said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna. They headed toward Sirte, far along the coast, and the air base of Al-Jufra in central Libya. The LNA made no immediate official comment.
The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord, GNA, and allied forces across most of northwest Libya, reversing many of Haftar’s gains from last year when he raced toward Tripoli.
The United Nations has started holding talks with both sides for a cease-fire deal in recent days, though previous truces have not stuck. The GNA gains could entrench the de facto partition of Libya into zones controlled by rival eastern and western governments whose foreign backers compete for regional sway.
Turkish military support for the GNA, with drone strikes, air defenses and a supply of allied Syrian fighters, was key to its recent successes. Ankara regards Libya as crucial to defending its interests in the eastern Mediterranean.
However, the LNA still retains its foreign support. Washington said last week Moscow had sent warplanes to LNA-held Jufra, though Russia and the LNA denied this.
The United Nations says weapons and fighters have flooded into the country in defiance of an arms embargo, risking a deadlier escalation. Meanwhile, a blockade of oil ports by eastern-based forces has almost entirely cut off energy revenue and both administrations face a looming financial crisis.
Stronghold

Located in the hills southeast of Tripoli, Tarhouna had functioned as a forward base for Haftar’s assault on the capital. Its swift fall suggests Haftar’s foreign supporters were less willing to sustain his bid to take over the entire country once Turkey intervened decisively to stop him.
The GNA operations room said in a statement that its forces had captured Tarhouna after entering from four sides. Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident, said GNA forces had entered the town.
Videos and photographs posted online appeared to show GNA forces inside Tarhouna cheering and hugging each other and firing into the air.
“The Libyan government forces are rapidly moving in an organized manner and with armed drones. There could be a solution at the table, but Haftar’s forces are losing ground in every sense,” said a Turkish official.