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Egyptian Artifact Comes Home - 2001-07-28

A 3,000 year old granite bust of an ancient Egyptian queen has been returned to Cairo after having been stolen and smuggled out of the country almost a decade ago.

The life-size granite head is believed to be that of Queen Nefertari, principal wife of the illustrious pharaoh, Ramses II. The bust was stolen from a storage area at Sakkara, just south of Cairo in the early 1990s, was made to look like a cheap tourist souvenir, smuggled out of the country and ended up in London.

The ancient queen returned home on Saturday when the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Gaballah Ali Gaballah, brought the bust back to Cairo. Mr. Gaballah said he hoped thieves had gotten the message that Egypt would not give up in trying to recover its stolen art treasure.

The theft was part of a major smuggling ring that included members of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and an art dealer in Britain.

The ring was broken after a joint British-Egyptian investigation, with the help of British police. Nine Egyptians were tried in Cairo in 1997 and sentenced to varying terms of hard labor. Art dealer and restorer Jonathan Tokeley-Parry was convicted in Britain and sentenced to six years in prison.

Egypt has vast antiquities sites throughout the country and many are poorly guarded, making it all the easier for thieves to steal artifacts. The illegal trade in antiquities is a lucrative business with some items bringing in millions of dollars when sold in New York or London. British police are quoted as saying the trade is worth about $160 million a year.

Aside from the bust of Queen Nefertari, Mr. Gaballah also brought back six papyrus scrolls from a later Greco-Roman period.