Egyptologist suspected of smuggling artifacts from Israel

Retired lecturer from the US allegedly sold antiquities to tourists for $20,000, tried to leave country with ancient coins.

By OREN KESSLER
May 19, 2011 06:00
2 minute read.
Artifacts found in suspects hotel room

stolen artifacts_311. (photo credit: Courtesy of Eilat Customs)

A retired university lecturer from the US was held for questioning this week after allegedly selling and trying to smuggle abroad hundreds of valuable archeological artifacts.

The suspect, a former history lecturer specializing in Ancient Egypt, is alleged to have sold ancient coins and other historical relics to some 20 tourists he was guiding in Israel, and to have tried to leave the country with cash and checks totaling over $20,000.

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Customs authorities in conjunction with Antiquities Authority officials detained the suspect at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday night as he prepared to board a flight to the US.

After admitting to the alleged offenses and filing a hefty deposit to ensure his return for trial, he was allowed to leave the country.

The arrest came after a week-long surveillance operation by undercover Antiquities Authority agents. On Monday officials saw the suspect selling antiquities to tourists in a hotel. Once the sale was completed, they searched the suspect’s room and belongings, discovering hundreds of ancient artifacts they believe were stolen by antiquities robbers from sites around the country.

Earlier on Monday, officials stopped the tourists he had been guiding at the Taba border crossing with Egypt. Eilat customs officials discovered 20 members of the group had illegally obtained archeological artifacts in their possession, and apparently intended to take them out of the country without permits.

The tourists said most of the items were purchased from the guide during their visit to Israel. The items included bronze and silver coins dating to the Second Temple period, clay oil lamps from the Roman and Byzantine eras, and ancient glass and ceramic vessels.

On Monday night, the suspect was located at Ben-Gurion Airport, attempting to leave the country. Officials found ancient coins in his possession, as well as evidence that he had made dozens of illicit antiquities sales over the past two weeks.

“The sale of antiquities without a permit and the export of antiquities from Israel without permission are criminal offenses for which the penalty prescribed by law is up to three years imprisonment,” said Amir Ganor, director of the Antiquities Authority’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.

“Those buying antiquities from unauthorized dealers place themselves and their money at risk, purchase antiquities at exorbitant prices and are actually encouraging antiquities robbery and the plundering of the country’s history,” he said.


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