Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

Britain to return Egypt sculpture

Inside gallery room in British Museum
British Museum staff led police to the art smuggler

An ancient sculpture of a pharaoh smuggled out of Egypt disguised as a tacky souvenir is to be returned home after almost 20 years.

Antiques restorer Jonathan Tokeley-Parry dipped the stone head of Amenhotep III in plastic and painted it black to make it resemble a cheap copy.

Now, 10 years after the Briton was jailed for his activities, the head is to be returned to Egypt in a ceremony.

After a long legal battle, it will be handed to Egypt's ambassador in London.

False provenance

The sculpture, depicting the pharaoh who died in 1375BC, was smuggled out the country in 1990, breaching Egyptian laws banning the export of antiques more than 100 years old.

The head was then passed from country to country, and at one stage it was given a false provenance dating it to the 1920s.

Tokeley-Parry, a well-known figure in the art world, was caught in 1994 when an assistant tried to sell papyrus texts to the British Museum.

As so often happens, the perpetrators of the crime are apprehended and dealt with long before the art finds its way back to the true owner

Karen Sanig, Mishcon de Reya

The museum recognised them as stolen and called the police.

He was convicted in 1997 of illegally selling stolen archaeological finds, and spent three years in prison.

In 1999, the Metropolitan Police recovered the head sculpture.

At the ceremony at the Egyptian embassy in London later, Egyptian ambassador Hatem Seif El Nasr will receive the sculpture.

Karen Sanig, head of art law at London law firm Mishcon de Reya, said: "As so often happens with cultural heritage artefacts, the perpetrators of the crime are apprehended and dealt with long before the art finds its way back to the true owner.

"The reason is that there is no international law which deals with the trafficking of stolen art and antiquities."

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Ancient sculpture returns to Egypt
28 Jul 01 |  Middle East

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