Egypt demands Italy hands over ex-diplomats who smuggled antiquities

Special Egypt demands Italy hands over ex-diplomats who smuggled antiquities
Tourists look at ancient artifacts, returned by Italy, at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 19 December 2020

Egypt demands Italy hands over ex-diplomats who smuggled antiquities

Egypt demands Italy hands over ex-diplomats who smuggled antiquities
  • The artifacts consisted of a group of pottery vessels from different periods, parts of coffins and coins

CAIRO: Egyptian Interpol has asked the Italian government to hand over former members of its  embassy in Cairo after they were convicted of smuggling Egyptian artifacts.

Interpol demanded the extradition of Ladislav Otakar Skakal, former honorary consul in Luxor, who was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in absentia and a fine of 1 million Egyptian pounds for the smuggling of nearly 22,000 artifacts to Italy from 2016 to 2018 through the containers of the diplomatic mission, with the participation of Massimiliano Sponzilli, former trade commissioner to Egypt.

The case involves other defendants, including the brother of former Finance Minister Youssef Botros Ghaly, who was sentenced in February to 30 years in prison and given a 6 million Egyptian pound fine. 

The Egyptian Public Prosecution had ordered the referral of Ghali and others to the International Criminal Court, with the speedy arrest and summoning of the Italian consul and his inclusion on the Interpol Red Notice.

The case dates to May 2018, when Italian media revealed that antiquities found in diplomatic containers in the port of Salerno, Italy, were from Egypt, and Egyptian officials were suspected of smuggling them.

The artifacts consisted of a group of pottery vessels from different periods, parts of coffins and coins, and a few pieces belonging to the Islamic civilization.

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Italian side revealed that their contacts with the Customs Department at Alexandria Port indicated that the antiquities and the shipment were not of an Egyptian diplomat but rather related to an Italian citizen who later turned out to be Skakal.

The public prosecutor ordered that all the accused — Medhat Michel Gerges Salib, his wife Sahar Zaki Ragheb, and Boutros Raouf Ghali — be prevented from disposing of their money, and issued a decision to include Skakal on watch lists.

Egypt recovered the smuggled pieces, which consisted of 21,000 coins, 195 artifacts, 11 pottery vessels, 5 mummy masks — some of them gilded — a wooden coffin, two small wooden compounds, two canopy heads and three colored ceramic tiles from the Islamic era.