In Brief

Egypt to sue Christie's to retrieve Tutankhamun bust

Statue sold for £4.7m last week in ‘one of its most controversial auctions in years’

Egypt says it will file a civil suit over the recent auction sale of a Tutankhamun bust.

The sculpture of the pharaoh was sold for £4.7m ($6m) at Christie’s auction house last week, in what The Daily Telegraph describes as “one of its most controversial auctions in years”.

The sale went ahead despite Egypt’s warning that the artefact was probably stolen in the 1970s. Egypt’s ambassador to the UK, Tarek Adel, had called for Christie’s to delay the auction, arguing that further investigation was needed “regarding the legality of trading in these items, the authenticity of their documents, and evidence of its legal exportation from Egypt”.

Following the sale, Egyptian National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation has expressed its “deep discontent of the unprofessional way in which the Egyptian artefacts were sold without the provision of the ownership documents and proof that that the artefacts left Egypt in a legitimate manner”.

It added that as well as instructing a British law firm to file a civil lawsuit over the sale, it would also ask Interpol to issue a circular to “track down the illegal sale of Egyptian artefacts worldwide”.

Speaking to the BBC, Egyptian antiquities minister Khaled al-Enany vowed to repatriate the artefact. “They left us with no other option but to go to court to restore our smuggled antiquities,” he said.

“We will leave no stone unturned until we repatriate the Tutankhamun bust and the other 32 pieces sold by Christie's. This is human heritage that should be on public display in its country of origin.”

However, Christie's has strongly denied any wrongdoing, insisting it carried out “extensive due diligence” to verify the provenance of the bust and had “gone beyond what is required to assure legal title”.

The 28.5cm-high statue shows the young pharaoh Tutankhamun with the facial features of Amun, “a device used to align the ruling king with deities”, according to Christie’s description.

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