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Egypt arrests former lawmaker for allegedly smuggling antiquities

Flamboyant ex-MP Alaa Hassanein suspected of leading group that stole tablets, statues, Classical-era coins, black basalt plates; allegations carry life sentence

In this April 24, 2021 file photo, people visit the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Old Cairo, April 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
Illustrative: In this April 24, 2021 file photo, people visit the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Old Cairo, April 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

CAIRO, Egypt — Egyptian police on Thursday arrested a former lawmaker and 17 other suspects on charges of illegal excavation and smuggling of 201 Pharaonic, Greek and Roman artifacts, an interior ministry statement said.

Security agencies “arrested a criminal gang headed by a person, who was previously charged in four cases, for illegally excavating sites nationwide… with the aim of smuggling and selling antiquities,” it said.

A 5-minute video accompanying the statement listed the looted relics found in the men’s possession including “two wooden tablets engraved with hieroglyphics, 36 different statues of various lengths… 52 copper coins believed to be from the Greek and Roman periods… three black basalt plates.”

Alaa Hassanein, the flamboyant ex-MP, who was a member of former autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s now-dissolved National Democratic Party, had appeared in local media claiming to have dabbled in black magic and exorcisms.

Smuggling antiquities in Egypt carries a life imprisonment sentence and hefty fines.

Separately on Wednesday, Egypt’s public prosecutor said in a statement that Cairo had recovered nearly 115 stolen artifacts that had been taken to Paris, following a two-year operation in collaboration with French judicial authorities.

Illustrative: Egyptian policemen in Cairo, June 29, 2015. (AP/Eman Helal, File)

Although the statement did not specify the full contents of the trove, an accompanying 15-minute video showed Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities chief Mostafa Waziri explaining that some of the artifacts dated back to “the ancient Egyptian civilization across various periods.”

These included Pharaonic busts, a gold-tinged statuette of Amenhotep III and a small colorful golden coffin of the ancient sky god Horus, as well as pottery.

Cairo has announced several major new archaeological discoveries in recent years, hoping to revive a vital tourism sector battered by a 2011 uprising, insurgent attacks and the coronavirus pandemic.

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