Egypt’s Interpol apprehended antiquities trader Ali Aboutaam last week, said Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni. Aboutaam was accused of smuggling Egyptian antiquities out of the country.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that Aboutaam is a Lebanese trader who owns an antiquities dealership. He lives in Geneva, Switzerland and was convicted previously in the famous antiquities smuggling case involving Tarek El-Seweissi, who was caught in 2003 by the Egyptian Police. El Seweissi was also convicted of stealing and smuggling Egyptian antiquities.
El-Seweissi, in cahoots with Aboutaam, smuggled 280 artifacts out of Egypt, packing some of them as glass bottles and hiding the others in large boxes of children’s toys and electronics, all labeled with the name of a well-known international exporting company.
Dr. Hawass added that investigations carried out by the General Prosecution in Egypt revealed that Aboutaam helped El-Seweissi smuggle these artifacts out of the country. He was the eighth felon ever to be convicted in such a case, but remained at large until yesterday when Interpol caught him in Bulgaria.
In April 2004, the Criminal Court in Egypt sentenced him in absentia to 15 years in prison including a fine of LE 50,000.
In collaboration with the General Prosecution, the SCA was able to retrieve 1000 objects from Switzerland and Britain they smuggled out of the country.
Three years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigations told Dr. Hawass, who was there to receive one of three reliefs of the Akhmim (which were stolen by another convicted smuggler) about Aboutaam’s illegal activities.
Hawass said that finding Aboutaam is a bold move and a step towards ending the trade in illegal antiquities around the world.
Since 2002, Egypt has succeeded in recovering 5000 stolen and smuggled antiquities.