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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 August 2005, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Mummy smugglers jailed for life
A stolen Egyptian statue
Stolen Egyptian artefacts have been found all over the world
Three men have been jailed for life over a scam to smuggle artefacts worth more than $50m out of Egypt.

Those found guilty included the former head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Abdul Karim Abu Shanab.

He was accused of giving smugglers certificates showing genuine artefacts were imitations, so they could be carried through customs.

"This is injustice. I have done nothing," he wept after the sentence was read out in the Cairo court.

His lawyer said he would appeal.

Four other defendants received sentences ranging from fines to 15 years in prison. They included a Swiss citizen and a German of Egyptian origin.

Four of the seven, including the Swiss and German, were convicted in their absence.

Another three were acquitted.

Relatives of those found guilty cried in anguish as the sentences were read out, while those of the acquitted leapt for joy.

Severe penalties

Officials estimated the smuggling gang exported some 57,000 pieces worth about $55m (30m), including human and animal mummies, coins, statues and wooden sarcophagi.

The authorities intercepted some of the antiquities at Cairo airport, but others were smuggled all over the world, including some that were found in Australia for sale on the internet. They have been returned to Egypt.

Egyptian law says only reproductions of antiquities can be exported, so many of the items were given certificates to show they were fake.

Correspondents say the severe penalties for smuggling reflect Egypt's determination to stop the traffic in its ancient heritage.

It has demanded that foreign museums return stolen artefacts, refusing to cooperate with their exhibitions unless they do.

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