Golden coffin stolen during 2011 revolution returned to Egypt

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Egypt's Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany (R) and Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo Thomas Goldberger (C) look at the Golden Coffin of Nedjemankh, on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo on October 1, 2019, following its repatriation from the US. (AFP)
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Egypt's Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany (L) and Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo Thomas Goldberger look at the Golden Coffin of Nedjemankh, on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo on October 1, 2019, following its repatriation from the US. (AFP)
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Egypt's Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany (3rd-R) and Chargé d'Affaires at the US Embassy in Cairo Thomas Goldberger (2nd-R) look at the Golden Coffin of Nedjemankh, on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo on October 1, 2019, following its repatriation from the US. (AFP)
Updated 02 October 2019

Golden coffin stolen during 2011 revolution returned to Egypt

  • The large decorated coffin dates back to the first century BC. It was excavated from Minya governorate in Upper Egypt, stolen by antique gangs eight years ago and then smuggled out of the country

CAIRO: Egyptian and American authorities have announced that the golden coffin of Egyptian priest Nedjemankh, which was stolen during the 2011 revolution, was this week returned to Egypt after it was fraudulently sold to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The large decorated coffin dates back to the first century BC. It was excavated from Minya governorate in Upper Egypt, stolen by antique gangs eight years ago and then smuggled out of the country. 

According to the Daily Mail, the Met purchased the coffin from a Paris art dealer in July 2017 for about $4 million. It came with bogus documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license. 

The museum believed that the art dealer, Christophe Kunicki, was acting in good faith and had a legal right to sell the coffin. 

As a result, the museum was deceived into believing that it could legitimately purchase the golden coffin. 

The object was placed on public display and soon became a major hit with visitors. It was not long before 500,000 people had been to see the coffin, which is in the shape of a mummy, is 2 meters long and is skillfully made from wood and metal, with a covering of sheets of gold.

Ahmed Fathy, a restoration official at Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, said that the Met was approached by the district attorney’s office in New York in February this year. 

It came forward with evidence indicating that the prized artifact was stolen as part of an international smuggling operation. After reviewing the evidence, the museum’s officials agreed to return the golden coffin to its rightful owners, the Egyptian people, and removed the item from public display.

Fathy said that the coffin was identified as stolen thanks to the efforts of the Antiquities Anti-Smuggling Unit, which is affiliated with the office of the district attorney in New York, and with the cooperation of officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Antiquities. 

The unit had previously succeeded in retrieving stolen Roman, Greek, Indian and Buddhist monuments and returned them to their countries of origin. He added that Egypt has become more determined to recover its monuments that have been stolen or illegally sold.

A press conference was held last week announcing the imminent repatriation of the coffin. 

It was attended by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the New York district attorney and senior officials. 

Shoukry stated that the coffin “is not only for Egyptians but this is for our common human heritage.”

Investigations into the theft and illegal sale of the historic item are ongoing. 

The authorities have not indicated if they have identified any suspects. The Met is reportedly deeply angered by the incident and is reviewing how it acquires new items. The museum has also vowed to retrieve the money that it gave to the French art dealer for the stolen item.

An official at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News that the coffin will be displayed in the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which is due to open next year.

History researcher Abdel-Meguid Abdel-Aziz said that Nedjemankh’s coffin dates back to when Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty. 

Nedjemankh was a senior priest of the ram-god Heryshef of Herakleopolis (now the Ehnasia district in Beni Suef). The coffin no longer contains the mummy of the priest.

The coffin of Nedjemankh is elaborately decorated with scenes and hieroglyphic texts meant to guide the priest on his journey to eternal life. 

The gold symbolized the priest’s special relationship with the Egyptian gods. A unique feature of the coffin are the thin layers of silver inside the casket, possibly designed to protect the face of the priest during his journey to the afterlife.


US, European allies clash on militants’ fate in Daesh talks

Updated 59 min 50 sec ago

US, European allies clash on militants’ fate in Daesh talks

  • Senior officials from more than 30 countries pledged greater coordination in the campaign against Daesh

WASHINGTON: The US and its European allies clashed on Thursday over what to do with thousands of militants jailed in Syria, with Washington calling a French proposal to try fighters in Iraq “irresponsible.”

Senior officials from more than 30 countries pledged greater coordination in the campaign against Daesh in a meeting in Washington proposed by France, which has been particularly concerned by President Donald Trump’s decision last month to pull US troops from Syria.

Trump’s move allowed an incursion by Turkey aimed at destroying Kurdish guerrillas, who had led the fight against Daesh and run jails for captured extremists in their effectively autonomous area in northern Syria.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed the Europeans on foreign fighters, telling them, “we’ll hold them to account.”

“Coalition members must take back the thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in custody and impose accountability for the atrocities they have perpetrated,” Pompeo said.

But Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, acknowledged that “there is, candidly, a difference of opinion about the best way to resolve this problem.”

“The United States thinks that it’s inappropriate to ask Iraq in particular to shoulder the additional burden of foreign fighters, particularly from Europe,” Sales told reporters after the one-day meeting.

“It would be irresponsible for any country to expect Iraq to solve that problem for them,” he said.

“We think there should be a sense of urgency to repatriate now while we still can,” he said.

Sales’s comments clearly were directed at France, which has opened talks with Iraq about trying foreign nationals.

European nations such as France and Britain have no desire to see the return of battle-hardened supporters of the ultra-violent group, which has claimed responsibility for a slew of grisly attacks against civilians.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said his government was seeking the “certain and lasting detention” of fighters and noted that the vast majority of prisoners were Iraqis and Syrians.

“For our part, we will continue to say that they should be tried as close as possible to the crimes they committed,” he told reporters.

“Let’s never forget that these women and men who joined Daesh made a fully conscious choice to fight for a terrorist organization,” he said, using the group’s Arabic initials.

European governments have revoked the citizenship of a number of citizens over alleged Daesh links.

Such a step is virtually impossible in the US, although a court Thursday backed the State Department’s finding that one US-born recruit, Hoda Muthana, did not have US citizenship as her father was a diplomat from Yemen.

Trump argues that the US accomplished its military mission in war-ravaged Syria by crushing Daesh, although he has since said that US troops will stay on to secure oil fields.

Pompeo dwelled little on Trump’s decision but said US forces remained positioned to make sure Daesh “will never get a second wind,” using a common acronym for the group.

The United States will continue to lead the coalition and the world on this essential security effort,” Pompeo said.

He scoffed at criticism of Trump’s move, pointing to the October 26 raid by US forces that killed the group’s chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as well as an operation that killed his would-be successor.

“Ask them if there’s a deficit of American leadership in fighting” Daesh, Pompeo said.

The talks came a day after Trump welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House, a rapid turnaround in symbolism just weeks after Trump threatened to destroy the NATO ally’s economy over its incursion.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking alongside Pompeo, acknowledged that there were “differences” among alliance members on Syria, where the situation he said “remains fragile and difficult.”

But Le Drian said France felt reassured by a joint statement’s reaffirmation of a coalition, saying that all members agreed “to avoid unilateral steps without consulting with others.”

The ministers also said they would hold a meeting next year focused on Daesh in West Africa, where the extremists have staged increasingly destructive attacks.