Stolen 16th-century Qur’an to be returned to Turkey

The Qur’an was taken at gunpoint by robbers in Istanbul in 2015. (File/Shutterstock)
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  • Rare item seized by UK police after being put up for auction at Christie’s
  • Qur’an taken at gunpoint by robbers in Istanbul in 2015

LONDON: A rare 16th-century Qur’an allegedly stolen in an armed robbery six years ago is set to be returned to Turkey.

The Qur’an, which had been listed for auction at Christie’s in London in October 2017, was expected to be sold for between £120,000 ($166,000) and £180,000, before it was removed from a sale of Indian and Islamic art.

Turkish authorities said the precious item had been taken in a “gunpoint robbery” in Istanbul in February 2015 and smuggled out of the country.

Three men were convicted and jailed for over 10 years each for the robbery, in which the owner was pepper-sprayed and had his face wrapped in tape. A fourth attacker is still at large.

Lawyers for Zaher Al-Hajjeh, who claimed to be the legal owner of the Qur’an, wrote to Christie’s last year threatening legal action if the book was not returned to him or he was not paid compensation, estimating it at a value of £750,000.

It was then seized in February 2020 by the Metropolitan Police after obtaining a warrant to search for the “item of cultural significance.”

In July 2021, a High Court judge dismissed Al-Hajjeh’s claim that the Metropolitan Police had misled a judge into granting them a search warrant, saying there were “strong grounds to believe that the stolen Qur’an was the artefact placed with Christie’s for auction” by Al-Hajjeh.

The judge added that Al-Hajjeh’s claim to being the owner of the book, and how it came into his possession, “was to be viewed with very considerable skepticism.”

A Christie’s spokesman said: “We can confirm Christie’s, a third party in this matter, complied with the requirement of the Metropolitan Police. We have no further comment to make.”