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Egypt demands return of sarcophagus from Berlin

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Berlin (dpa) - Egypt demanded Thursday the return of a decorated sarcophagus and gold jewellery looted from the ancient tomb of a temple dancing-girl after the treasures were seized by German police at a Berlin freight depot.

Prosecutors in the German capital have begun a legal inquiry over the rightful owner of the treasures put in storage in the city by a Hamburg art dealer who has arranged their sale to a U.S. buyer.

The 2.2-metre-long sarcophagus dates from the 4th century B.C. also in the collection are grave goods, figurines and the jewellery.

The treasures were being consigned from Switzerland to the United States after being sold for 2 million dollars. They were seized at the end of October, but this was not made public at the time.

Prosecutions spokesman Michael Grunwald said it was established that the artefacts left Egypt in the 1970s.

Grunwald said the inquiry focussed on whether they had been legally exported. It is also possible that Egypt may have no legal remedy because of the long period of time that has elapsed.

Al-Ahram, the Cairo daily, last month reported that the artefacts were exported by a gang of traffickers that included corrupt officials in the Antiquities Department in Cairo. The traffickers have since received hefty prison sentences.

The department said in early November it had succeeded in blocking an auction in Canada of 50 artefacts stolen by the same gang.

The Egyptian embassy in Berlin filed an official complaint with prosecutors that the Berlin hoard was stolen.

Mounir Michael Farag, a lawyer representing the Egyptian government, said in Berlin that an application for a licence to export the treasures from Germany had contained inaccuracies.

According to Grunwald, the embassy maintains the original export from Egypt was illegal, whereas the art dealer maintains no laws were broken.

Farag said, "At the start of the 1970s it was indeed possible to export such objects, but a government permit was required." The permit shown in Berlin was forged, he added. Egypt wants the art sent back to Cairo.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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